If you’ve ever wondered why empty lots where factories, gas stations or other industrial businesses once stood are left barren, you’re not alone. They seem like ideal places for new businesses and new venues of technology, but it’s not always that simple. Many of these places are known as brownfields, which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines as a piece of property whose reuse “may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant, or contaminant.” Dangerous chemicals can seep into the soil, for example, and often cleanup is more costly for a business venture than simply building a new site elsewhere. Basically, brownfields are dead spaces.
The National Brownfield Association reports that there may be as many as a million brownfields in the US, and their real estate value, if not for the contaminants, could total at up to $2 trillion.
But it’s far from hopeless. In 1995, the EPA initiated the Brownfields Program, which provides funding and training to clean up contaminated land for reuse. Taking it a step further, they launched RE-Powering America’s Land in 2008, which provides initiatives for companies redeveloping brownfields to use renewable and clean energy wherever possible. Brownfield sites are also being sought out by greentech companies, particularly solar companies, for whom the sites are ideal for things like photovoltaic facilities due to the fact that many brownfields, especially ones that were once factories or landfills, are large, flat areas without much blockage by trees or buildings.
Here are some interesting links we found in regards to brownfields and cleantech futures for those lands:
- The Portland Brownfield Program in Oregon, Washington State’s Department of Ecology, the National Brownfield Association, headquartered in Illinois, Carnegie-Mellon’s Western Pennsylvania Brownfields Center and the Clean Ohio Fund all provide resources for the public regarding brownfield reclaiming around the country.
- Electric Utility Consultants, Inc. (EUCI) provides an overview of renewable energy projects on brownfield sites.
- New Jersey and Company reports on the energy-efficient and sustainable building project in Jersey City, NJ, on a former brownfield site.
- Planet Forward talks about the trend of clean technology companies not only building on brownfield sites, but using their technology to clean them up.
- Redevelopment Economics compiles a list of brownfield-to-cleantech projects from around the USA.
- groSolar discusses using a capped landfill in Logan Township, NJ, for the site of their photovoltaic modules, which in turn power the equipment cleaning contaminants from the groundwater.
- Read about the happenings at the annual National Brownfields Conference, which was held this year in Philadelphia, PA.
- Completed in 2010, Excelon City Solar is the US’s largest urban solar power plant–and it’s built on top of a brownfield.