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Sustainable infrastructure supports cancer and Parkinson’s research

Providing 24/7 steam for a 400,000 square foot, LEED Platinum-certified biomedical research and science education facility.


Overlooking downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is a world- class biomedical research and science education facility at the forefront of research fighting cancer, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases. Operating under a 10-year contract, Vicinity Energy provides VAI with 9,750 pounds per hour (lb/hr) of steam for heating, hot water, humidification, equipment sterilization and decontamination of lab waste via its Grand Rapids thermal energy plant.


VAI’s laboratory and research facility integrates several green features, including energy recovery systems, demand-control ventilation and high-pressure steam. Due to the energy-intensive and environmental requirements of laboratories, VAI required stringent lighting, temperature and humidity controls, in addition to high-pressure steam used in autoclaves for equipment sterilization. Although VAI considered constructing its own energy plant during the planning stages of the facility, leveraging Vicinity’s existing district energy infrastructure proved to be the most economical and sustainable solution.


Vicinity has undertaken several capital improvements to increase the efficiency and sustainability of the Grand Rapids plant and distribution system which serves approximately 130 customers with 450,000 lb/hr of steam via a 7-mile distribution system. With the installation of a condensing economizer and an on-site emergency backup generator in 2012, Vicinity’s system has been armed with layers of power reliability. The issue of resiliency is particularly important to VAI and other medical facilities that require an uninterrupted steam supply to support critical research activities. In spring 2014, Vicinity’s district system proved to be vital in supporting VAI’s 24/7 operations following a downed utility pole. Although several businesses and institutions lost utility-supplied power for nearly an hour, VAI did not experience a disruption in steam service. Vicinity’s on-site backup generator, which powered the steam plant throughout the outage, continued to supply uninterrupted steam service to all customers, including VAI.


By leveraging Vicinity’s Grand Rapids plant, VAI has benefitted from greater reliability, sustainability and lower energy costs due to efficiency gains and reduced long-term operating costs. In addition, the high-pressure steam provided by Vicinity is critical to VAI’s research activities, relieving scientists of the burden of cleaning and decontaminating glassware so they can focus on their research. Thanks to VAI’s streamlined operations and cutting-edge infrastructure, including the 24/7 high- pressure steam provided by Vicinity, VAI continues to advance key discoveries in human health.