News Story

Michigan’s Subsidized Green Energy Adventures Arrived With Headlines, Faded In Silence

Remember Swedish Biogas?

It has been more than a decade since Michigan officials promoted Sweden’s role in this state’s efforts to replicate what the media had dubbed the “world’s greenest country.” Newspapers across the U.S. reported in October 2010 that Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden had praised Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm for her work in promoting clean energy.

The news hook was a state subsidy for a company called Swedish Biogas. In 2008, the Detroit Free Press reported the firm would open a plant in Flint to “turn human waste into energy that could power city-owned vehicles.”

The report added, “Swedish Biogas already has a similar plant in Linkoping, Sweden, a town nearly the same size as Flint.”

On Sept. 26, 2008, the Swedish king and Michigan governor attended an event to mark Swedish Biogas as the state’s first recipient of “Centers of Energy Excellence” subsidies. The state gave the company a $4 million grant, and it received another $951,500 in federal money. Reports said $6 million more in private money went to the project.

Two years later, a 2010 Granholm press release proclaimed companies such as Swedish Biogas would transform the state economy, and the company could expand to other cities.

Swedish Biogas International declared that Kettering University in Flint would be its North American headquarters, with ventures “setting the stage for Flint to be the launching point for expanding the use of this technology throughout Michigan and North America.”

The grander vision never materialized.

Today, Swedish Biogas is a distant memory, even to those who were originally dubbed as partners.

“Had to do a lot of digging on this one!” said Crystal Garcia-Tyler, communications director at Kettering University, the private institution formerly known as General Motors Institute.

Garcia-Tyler had been asked earlier this year to verify if Swedish Biogas was still involved with the university.

“From our understanding, the company pulled out of the project in which we were connected through research being conducted at Kettering at the time. For a short period of time, Swedish Biogas did lease space at the Innovation Center, but has long since left,” Garcia-Tyler said in an email.

The proposed expansion of a plant in Reed City in 2010 also never happened.

After the initial coverage prompted by the king’s visit, Swedish Biogas fell off the media radar. This has been a common pattern for state-subsidized energy projects, after their early press releases garner much attention.

At some point, perhaps 2011, Swedish Biogas International abandoned its Flint operations. Chad Antle, who had been leading the work in Flint, started a new company called BioWorks Energy and continued the project.

A 2013 report by the Michigan Economic Development Corporation stated that the Flint project had created one full-time job. Earlier projections called for 15 jobs by 2012.

In 2013, a story from the statewide news site MLive said the decline in Flint’s population was slowing the growth of Swedish Biogas.

In an email sent earlier this year, Antle said that he purchased Swedish Biogas and rebranded it as BioWorks Energy. Antle said he currently has four full-time employees and several part-time ones.

Documents from the city of Flint suggest that BioWorks Energy saves the city between $346,000 to $587,000 a year by producing biogas fuel from sewage.

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.