BUILDINGS - Smarter Facilities Management


Fertilizer Company Selects Eco-Friendly Polypropylene Pipe Solution for LEED Gold Headquarters

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    This is article is sponsored by Aquatherm, to learn more visit

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    The Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers was one of the largest building projects in Clinton County, with a sharp focus on sustainability and functionality. The bright and airy entrance greets visitors with a modern, yet rural appearance, and the facility features a full commercial kitchen and hotel suites to deliver added versatility.

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    Agro’s nearly 60,000 sq ft of office, research, and educational space also serves as a community center and features an executive conference room that “cantilevers” over the front of the building. Environmentally friendly construction was a huge priority for the project.

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    Shown here connected to pumps and other equipment in the main mechanical room, Aquatherm Blue Pipe® was an indirect contributor to the facility’s LEED Gold status. The polypropylene-random (PP-R) piping system, which is fully recyclable, rust- and corrosion-free and long-lasting, requires less energy for initial production than other piping materials and involves none of the environmental effects associated with mining operations.

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    The vast majority of the Agro-Culture building’s main mechanical room is tightly packed with heat exchangers, pumps, valves, and associated equipment. But the overwhelming color scheme of the space emanates from Aquatherm Blue Pipe®. The highly engineered, heat-fused pipe system crisscrosses the space, tying together geothermal, chilled water, condenser water, and snowmelt systems.

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    The building’s HVAC system is a hybrid, integrating a geothermal system, water source heat pumps, and Mammoth K Vintage water-to-water heat pumps, a couple of which are shown here, connected to Aquatherm Blue Pipe®.

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    Aquatherm Blue Pipe®, which connected several elements of the Agro facility’s mechanical system (including the one of the Lochinvar boilers shown here, which provides snowmelt on the perimeter of the building’s interior.)

One of the biggest buildings in St. John’s, MI is the legacy of a small entrepreneurial company that came to fruition.

Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers was founded in 1963 by Douglas Cook, who had a vision to create a natural fertilizer to improve farmers’ crops. Fifty years and 97 additional employees later, the company is now recognized as a pioneer in the industry. The company’s new 60,000-sq-ft corporate headquarters in St. John’s, MI, was built with great concern for the environment and the agriculturalist.


It reflects a modern-yet-rural ethos and achieved LEED Gold status with 60 LEED credits. “LEED certification is important to Agro-Culture Liquid Fertilizers because we care about the sustainability of our environment. Our focus is on being environmentally responsible with our fertilizer and in everything we do,” said Agro’s Vice President of Operations and Organizational Development, Nick Bancroft.


An indirect contributor to the Gold status was Aquatherm’s polypropylene-random (PP-R) piping system, which is fully recyclable, rust- and corrosion-free and long-lasting. Additionally, the polypropylene material requires less energy for initial production than other piping materials and involves none of the environmental effects associated with mining operations. Aquatherm can contribute to LEED innovation points.


Wieland-Davco (Lansing, MI) served as the general contractor for the project, which was on a tight construction schedule.  The design process began in January 2012, with roughly 500 people involved in constructing the two-story building. The actual construction process, which began in June 2013, took a little over a year.


GC and Sub – Both Onboard

Aquatherm was introduced to the project in fall 2012. First, Wieland-Davco selected Progressive Heating Cooling & Refrigeration, Inc. (Lowell, MI) as the project’s HVAC contractor. The initial plan was to use copper and insulated steel pipes, but Progressive recommended the use of Aquatherm PP-R pipe for chilled and condenser water applications because of its ability to provide labor time savings. An added benefit was the lightweight aspect of Aquatherm pipes, which makes it more manageable and installer-friendly, resulting in reduced labor time.  


 “I knew Aquatherm would be a good fit for the Agro project because the owner is interested in new, innovative products,” said Pete Flanagan owner of Progressive. “We thought we could achieve some cost savings too because the system didn’t have to be insulated. The owner liked the lifecycle benefits the Aquatherm pipe system provides. He also did his own research and liked what he found out.”


Buddy Huyler, was the senior project manager and design architect with Hobbs + Black Architects, the project’s architectural firm. “We approved the use of Aquatherm based on the ease of installation and constructability of the product, which had been presented to us by Weiland-Davco and Progressive,” he explained.


Not Your Ordinary Pipe, but the Heat-fused, Hydrophobic Kind

Aquatherm produces highly engineered piping systems made of Fusiolen® PP-R, a low-friction, hydrophobic and heat-stabilized material. One of the unique features of Aquatherm pipe is that it is connected via heat fusion. Unlike traditional pipes that require mechanical connections, resins, glues, open-flames, etc. to connect, Aquatherm pipes are connected by heating both the pipe and fitting and fusing them together, which bonds them at the molecular level and turns them into one solid piece of pipe with no leak path. The pipes, although still relatively new to North America, have been proven worldwide for the last 40+ years.


Further, Aquatherm's pipes are non-leaching and fully recyclable. Aquatherm adheres to the strictest production standards for sustainability, using the lowest-impact manufacturing processes available. PP-R piping is relatively clean to make, requiring only two steps of refinement, and is a byproduct of petroleum processing, giving it a much lower impact than the mining and smelting operations used to create metals.


Trust Yields Satisfaction

The owner, Nick Bancroft, was very involved and supportive of integrating Aquatherm pipe on the project from the start. “The main reason I chose to go with the Aquatherm piping was the long life that I perceive that we will get out of the product and the heating and cooling units,” Bancroft said. He added that he expects that Aquatherm’s resistance to scaling will result in less wear and tear on the overall system.


Joe Haupt, project manager for Wieland-Davco, explained:  “ that we have seen it [Aquatherm] and know the benefits of it, we can strongly recommend it.” “It [Aquatherm] helped significantly in our LEED points but it wasn’t the main decision-making process as to why we were going with Aquatherm.”


 “We have had good performance from the connections and valves up to this point,” Bancroft reported after the building had been operational for over a year.


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