Van Andel Institute propels cancer and Parkinson’s research with district energy



Life sciences


Grand Rapids, MI

Square footage


The customer

Home to nearly 500 scientists, educators, and staff, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is a world-class biomedical research and science education organization driven by an urgent desire to improve health and enhance lives. Located in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI is at the forefront of researching cancer, Parkinson’s, and other neurodegenerative diseases.  

The challenge

During the planning stages of the VAI facility located in Grand Rapids’ “Medical Mile,” the VAI team evaluated several energy solutions. Due to the energy-intensive and environmental requirements of laboratories, VAI needed stringent sterilization, temperature, and humidity controls to support the organization’s daily operations. VAI sought a solution that could meet these energy needs but require less upfront capital and maintenance than developing its own onsite energy plant.

The solution

Leveraging Vicinity’s district energy network proved to be the most cost-effective and sustainable solution for VAI. For over ten years, Vicinity has provided VAI with high-pressure steam for heating, hot water, humidification, equipment sterilization, and decontamination of lab waste.

Driving productive lab processes

VAI leverages district steam for its autoclave equipment, machines that use steam to kill harmful bacteria that could potentially compromise research experiments. District energy provides an efficient solution that VAI can trust so that employees can solely focus on their critical research activities. Vicinity’s 24/7 high-pressure steam has helped scientists become more efficient by relieving them of the time-consuming task of cleaning and sterilizing glassware. With more time to focus on key research, VAI staff can continue to advance their discoveries in human health. 

Promoting a sustainable future

Designed by famed architect Rafael Viñoly, VAI’s building is LEED Platinum certified and supports its vision to enhance lives for current and future generations by minimizing its impact on the planet. VAI’s facility incorporates various sustainability features, including photovoltaic rooftop panels, green roofs, a 33,000-gallon rainwater capture and storage system, energy recovery systems, and demand-control ventilation. Vicinity’s green steam further optimizes the facility’s energy efficiency and, thus, helps lower ongoing energy costs. Vicinity has invested more than $10 million in improving Grand Rapids’ district energy infrastructure, resulting in decreased fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. As Vicinity continues to upgrade the central facilities as part of Vicinity’s Clean Energy Future, these benefits are passed to the VAI, further solidifying its state-of-the-art facility as a symbol of innovation and sustainability.


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Operations savings

99.99% reliability 

Meeting stringent
energy needs