Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Indiana village's dream of energy self-sufficient BioTown founders on lack of private capital

In 2005, Reynolds, Ind., set out to become BioTown USA, a community powered solely by renewable energy. The big project drew plenty of attention — Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young even came to perform — as well as early support from BP, General Motors, and VeraSun Energy, but a lack of private capital is stalling progress, reports Tom Murphy of The Associated Press. "Money problems, leadership changes and other obstacles have fed skepticism about whether Reynolds will ever succeed at moving the state, much less the nation, toward homegrown energy and away from foreign oil," he writes.

The original plans to transform the town of 550 have been delayed, since the private capital state officials were counting on has failed to materialize. A lack of investors has halted startup firm Rose Energy Discovery's plans for building a facility to convert biomass into energy. At the same time, VeraSun has stopped construction of its ethanol plant as a result of rising corn prices and falling ethanol prices. The AP photo shows a symbol of the stalled plans: some of the 5,000 bales of corn stover which have sat unused for months, since the gasifier they were meant to feed has never been installed.

Despite the setbacks, officials have hope for Reynolds. After all, Juhnde, Germany, the model for BioTown USA, needed eight years to produce its own energy. A new technology developer, Energy Systems Group, has pledged to spend $10 million on a digester, and hopes to be producing power by the end of the year. "What we try to remind folks all the time is that this project, there's no manual that you pull out and say, 'How do you do a BioTown?' " Indiana Agriculture Director Andy Miller told Murphy. "We're kind of inventing it as we go."(Read more)

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