Reynolds, Indiana: A Little Town Goes Off Grid

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A Hoosier town works toward fossil-fuel independence.

The birth of BioTown: The tiny burg of Reynolds, Indiana, is working to free itself from the power grid (and from foreign oil) and to fuel its homes and businesses entirely on converted local waste.

Hog heaven: The revolutionary idea came from the state of Indiana, which wanted a small town, to be dubbed BioTown USA, to test agriculture-based energy’s potential. With only 550 residents, Reynolds is close to main roads and Purdue University, and it’s home to lots of hogs. It was just what the state was looking for.

Corn power: Residents are driving cars that run on a gasoline/ethanol blend-corn-derived ethanol reduces tailpipe emissions-and the town’s only gas station has been converted into an ethanol-fuel station.

Fuels rush in: Town board president Charlie Van Voorst says they’re still working out the details of technologies that will turn human, hog and plant waste into methane, a consumable gas; steam for electricity; and bio-oil for biodiesel. The state recently broke ground on a bioenergy plant, called the Technology Suite. In two years, it hopes to have the plant up and running-and shrinking residents’ utility bills. The town is seeking $7 million in private investments for the project.

Bright future: “It’s not uncommon to have a $500 or $600 heating and light bill in winter,” says King Van Voorst, Charlie’s father. “You can imagine what an asset it would be if we could get it down to $100. It would be a great drawing card for people to move into our little community.”

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