Ever heard of Reynolds, IN? Me neither. Turns out it's a speck on the map about an hour north of Indianapolis, with a population of at most 500 souls. And like a lot of small towns, Reynolds hadn't been doing well over the last few years: It was slowly dying as people moved away, leaving its farming past behind.
But all that has changed. Reynolds is now on the cutting edge of the alternative energy movement, participating in a project called “BioTown USA,” as it tries to become energy self-sufficient.
“Innovation is born from demand. We're trying to pioneer a different way to meet the demands of everyday life,” said Andy Miller, director of the Indiana State Dept. of Agriculture. “A lot of small towns are struggling….Using alternative power…[can] give them a means for economic redevelopment and to reshape their way of life.”
Reynolds is becoming BioTown in three phases. Phase I brought ethanol fueling pumps to the town's only gas station, with residents then given the opportunity to buy flex-fuel vehicles from General Motors. Today, Reynold's 47980 zip code has the highest amount of registered flex fuel vehicles anywhere in the U.S. Biodiesel is going to become available later this year for diesel-powered trucks and equipment.
Phase II, now under way, focuses on research, development and implementation of plans to make electricity from agricultural, human and municipal waste. With more than 150,000 hogs within a 15-mile radius, as well as several other sources of what can only charitably be called “biomass,” Reynolds is considered an ideal location for converting manure, wood chips and corn stover (the leftover plant matter once corn is harvested) into electricity, fertilizer, thermal energy and biodiesel.
Phase Three goes a step further, producing synthetic natural gas from agricultural waste and biomass. The bottom line the last two phases, said Miller, is to select the process that's most efficient and economical at converting waste to biogas and then processing it to make a usable form of energy.
“We must be more progressive in advancing new uses for our agricultural products and finding more environmentally-friendly ways to dispose of our byproducts,” he said. “It is our goal to recycle manure and other waste products into useful inputs, and energy production is a good example.”
No doubt these are extremely ambitious goals, but they illustrate a serious broadening of the alternative energy movement in this country. A town that makes its own power from its own wastes, thus removing itself from the national energy grid and — potentially — making enough biofuel to power the community's vehicles so it doesn't have to worry about tight refinery capacity, the Middle East, or rising oil demand in China and India is powerful, powerful stuff.
At National Summit on Agricultural & Food Truck Transport meeting, Miller cited another benefit — economic revitalization. “They can create 75 times more energy than what's available in their town today,” he explained. That's very attractive to many businesses. You can reach 67% of the U.S. population from Indiana in 24 hours because of its heartland location. Cheap home grown power combined with fast freight delivery could suddenly make manufacturing here in the U.S. a lot more viable at home.
“You can't just worry about the future — that's not what pioneering is all about,” Miller explained. “You don't ignore the challenges, but you don't cower from them either. That's why we're not relying on a ‘one trick pony’ such as corn for all of our energy needs — we're going after alternative power in a variety of ways.”