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MotorWeek Video Transcript: Indiana's BioTown Project

Davis:Much has been said about the environmental issues now facing American drivers: the needs to reduce greenhouse gases, to increase fuel economy and use alternative fuels, and reducing our dependence on foreign oil are all keys to a clean driving future. But it will take more than individual commitment to reach those goals; we need action on city, state and federal levels for any environmental efforts to truly make a difference. And one small town is doing just that, and in the process blazing a green trail for the rest of us to follow! Reynolds, Indiana is typical of many small farming communities found across the Midwest. This town of 500 people covers a square half-mile at the intersection of two state highways. A train goes by every couple of hours, and the USA Restaurant serves as defacto town hall, where news of the day is discussed over coffee and eggs. Just a quiet, ordinary town…

But it was this very ordinary-ness that led the State of Indiana to choose Reynolds in 2005 as the location for a novel experiment called BioTown USA. The goal: To be the first community in America to meet all of their energy needs from local renewable resources.

Co-managed by Indiana’s Department of Agriculture and the Office of Energy and Defense Development, the project has evolved over three phases: First was to switch the town’s vehicle fleet to use E85 and Biodiesel. General Motors stepped in and offered discounts on Flex-Fuel vehicles and even gave away a 2-year lease to 20 of the towns residents. College student Brooke Weaver was one of the lucky ones, and uses E85 when she can find it

Brooke Weaver:It’s actually a dream come true. I’ve always wanted a Monte Carlo. I almost bought one a couple of months before I got this one. The E85 verses the gasoline, the E85 is a little bit less in the gas mileage, but it really isn’t noticeable.

Davis:To encourage the use of renewable fuels, a “Bio Island” with E85 and B20 pumps was added to the town’s lone gas station, and VeraSun Energy has broken ground nearby on a new 110 million-gallon-per-year ethanol plant, ensuring a steady supply of local E85 for the future.

Charles Van Voorts, Town Council President:We actually ended up with over 150 flex-fuel vehicles in our community. Along with that, the town received two biodiesel trucks and one Police vehicle that runs on E85. So, it was a really good deal for the town, and vehicles that we very badly needed—so the timing couldn’t have been any better.

Davis:The next phases of the BioTown project involves making electricity and synthetic natural gas from local biomass resources like corn stover and paper fluff, as well as municipal sewage and hog manure—a commodity Reynolds has in great supply. There are over 150,000 hogs within a fifteen mile radius of the town, not to mention countless acres of corn, soybeans and wheat.

A Technology Suite planned to open in 2008 will include three types of equipment: Gasification, using high temperatures and controlled oxygen to break down organic materials, producing a gas that when burned will generate heat steam or electricity. Anaerobic Digestion, which breaks down liquid sewage in to methane gas and a concentrated fertilizer. And Fast Pyrolysis that combines high temperature without oxygen to convert biomass into steam heat and low-grade oil. Never before have so many energy saving technologies been used in one location.

Van Voorst:We’re hoping at the end of the day that we’re able to produce not only enough energy for the community, but also to sell some back on the grid for more income for the community and the town, so it’s a win-win situation.

Davis:Most importantly, all of the funding for the Technology Suite and Bio Island has come not from the State, but from local bonds and private sector investors. At the very least, the BioTown project will reduce the energy and waste disposal costs for Reynolds and nearby communities. But, we think BioTown proves that when it comes to regaining our energy independence, individual effort is fine, but even a small community banded together can do great things!

Fred Buschman, Lifelong Resident:We’re adopting a policy here that hopefully will spread clear across the United States, where we won’t throw so much stuff away. It’ll be exciting, it really will—I’m looking forward to it!