Hospital Runs On Beer

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A hospital and a local brewery in southern Wisconsin are piloting a program to create renewable energy.

The project, which began Oct. 7,  generates energy by turning methane discharge from City Brewery’s waste treatment into power. The gas, which used to be flared or released into the atmosphere, is then converted to electricity using an engine installed by Gundersen Lutheran, a healthcare group headquartered in the same city.

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The project should generate three million kilowatt hours each year, offsetting about 8 percent of the electricity used on two of Gundersen Lutheran’s largest campuses. Photo: Gundersen Lutheran

The electricity is then sent to the grid to be consumed by local power customers. To offset the costs of its consumption, the hospital is paid by the local utility for the power produced.

“With the cost of health care increasing, we are trying to hedge that inflation. We are working very aggressively to reduce the cost of energy and the cost of healthcare, and pass those savings on to patients,” said Jeff Rich, Gundersen Lutheran’s executive director of major projects and efficiency improvement.

To close the loop, heat generated from the engine will be captured and recycled back to produce heat for the waste treatment process at City Brewery.

“This project is pioneering. It’s transformational to think of a healthcare system taking action to be a producer of power,” said Rich.

Electricity generated from coal can increase the risk of heart, lung and liver disease, as well as lead to reproductive problems from mercury in water. Photo: Gundersen Lutheran

Electricity generated from coal can increase the risk of heart, lung and liver disease, as well as lead to reproductive problems from mercury in water. Photo: Gundersen Lutheran

But the combined heat and power project is just the first step toward Gundersen Lutheran’s goal of reaching energy independence. In hopes of creating a healthier and more sustainable environment for its patients, Gundersen Lutheran has started the “Envision” campaign.

Rich explained that hospitals are about two-and-a-half times as energy intensive as most business structures. “We are a big consumers of coal-fired electricity. But as a healthcare provider, that is not consistent with our mission.”

Gundersen Lutheran has a multi-pronged approach to environmental stewardship, including meeting 100 percent of its energy needs for its facilities by 2014, committing to environmentally and economically sustainable business practices, partnering with communities, providing national leadership and lowing healthcare costs.

It plans to meet these goals by using renewable energy, improving energy efficiency, working on recycling and waste management and achieving LEED certification of new buildings.

HealthLeaders Media said Gundersen Lutheran’s green initiative is “probably the most ambitious eco-friendly agenda of any healthcare entity in the United States.”

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