Driving through this small Indiana town of close to 500, there are no indications that it’s the center of cutting edge technology. This town of Reynolds is being powered from something that will never be in short supply around here – manure.
“We are taking gas from poop and running the big engines and making electricity,” says local farmer and president of BioTown Ag Brian Furrer. He is overseeing the project that has peaked the interest of people all over the world.
“People in the corporate world and throughout are talking about sustainability on a day to day basis, and I’m not sure they understand the true definition of sustainability and to me sustainability means we have a never ending supply and that’s really what we are truly trying to do on this farm.”
At heart, Furrer says he’s just a farm boy despite working to make Reynolds the first energy self-sufficient community in America.
But why Reynolds, Indiana? White County Economic Development Director Connie Neininger says they had many of the resources needed to pull this off.
“Within a 15 mile radius of Reynolds, we have 150-thousand head of hog, we have the crossroads, we have the highways crossing in the center of Reynolds, we have railroads crossing in the center of Reynolds,” she says.
Furrer started our tour with the processing of the manure.
“It’s all dumped here, we take the loader, we scoop it up and we dump it into the pit. In the pit we mix it in with the water and liquefy it,” he says.
The liquid is then pumped into a tank called the digester. It’s the size of a football field – 16 feet into the ground.
“We just simply made a very, very large cow stomach, so we put all this in there, it’s sealed, there is no oxygen in it.”
The organic matter breaks down emitting methane gas that travels through the pipes into the engine room. Three generators fueled from the methane gas produce electricity that goes back into the electric grid.
“We are producing a little over 2500 kilowatts of electricity, the town of Reynolds at peak will use 2800 kilowatts,” Furrer says.
But the process doesn’t end there. The left-over solids and liquids from the digester are separated. The liquids become organic fertilizer for the crops. The solids are put back in the bottom of cattle pens to absorb more waste. Even the heat from the generators is used to keep the temperature in the digester the same level as a cow’s stomach, about 100 degrees.
Now that the process is in place, Neininger is hoping to draw companies to White county that will capitalize on these new technologies.
“I think farmers realize they have to change the way they are operating if they are going to be in business. And so with this new idea that was looking at agriculture, it was a welcoming change,” Neininger says.
For now, the key component is education. They are offering tours to industry leaders, educators, students and the public.