Advanced Energy On the Ground: Michigan EIBC In-Person Tours Postponed But Will Return When Safe To Do So

Michigan has a fascinating array of companies working in innovative energy technologies: hubs for electric vehicles and automated vehicles of the future, the country’s largest maker of polysilicon used in solar panel cells, designers of onsite power sources used to improve the efficiency of producing everything from auto parts to beer, and more.

The best way to understand what the state’s advanced energy sector is up to is to see it up close, which is why one of the Michigan Energy Innovation Business Council’s outreach priorities over the past few years has been to organize many tours of the headquarters, labs, factories and other facilities of its members across the state.

Unfortunately the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented in-person tours. However, we are developing plans for virtual tours — stay tuned for more information soon!  Tours not only make state legislators, regulators, administration officials and other important members of the community more familiar with Michigan advanced energy companies and the work they do, but also provide significant opportunities for networking among attendees.

Some examples of memorable tours from the past several years are:

-Bell’s Brewery in the Kalamazoo area is one of the most celebrated independent breweries in America, and their innovation goes beyond the pint glass. Bell’s has cut their energy costs with the help of Michigan EIBC member Michigan CAT, which installed an anaerobic digester, a large keg full of a bacteria that consumes brewery waste and produces methane, which can then be used to generate electricity and heat water.In the summer of 2016, advanced energy leaders, state legislators and Michigan EIBC members toured Bell’s and saw a demonstration of the anaerobic digester. Attendees included State Representative Dave Maturen and State Senators Margaret O’Brien and Tonya Schuitmaker.

-With the University of Michigan’s MCity testing ground for autonomous vehicles, Ann Arbor has become an advanced mobility hub, which is why it has attracted companies like Phoenix Contact E-Mobility, which develops devices for the quick-charging of EVs, smart vehicles and more. In February 2020 Michigan EIBC organized a tour of Phoenix Contact E-Mobility’s Ann Arbor offices and saw demonstrations of the company’s technology. Attendees also heard a presentation from Debby Bezzina, senior program manager for the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute.

-Michigan EIBC member Hemlock Semiconductor is one of the world’s leading producers of polycrystalline silicon, a key input for making solar cells and many components of electronic devices. Hemlock also has taken aggressive actions to reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions from its operations. Michigan EIBC organized a tour of Hemlock in October 2019 that gave attendees a firsthand experience of how polysilicon is made. It also explored how corporations like Hemlock and others can use more renewable energy to power their activities. A panel discussion led to an exchange of ideas on voluntary green purchasing programs and other forms of direct procurement of renewables.

-Installed capacity from wind has grown rapidly in Michigan over the last decade and Michigan EIBC member Ventower Industries has been helping manufacture those turbines. A 2017 tour of Ventower Industries in Monroe, Mich., gave attendees, including several state legislators, a look at the company’s facilities fabricating massive steel components of wind turbine towers, such as marine foundations.