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Jackson County celebrates opening of Green Energy Park

A small spot on the side of a valley overlooking the Tuckasegee River outside Dillsboro may not seem the obvious place for any kind of technological firsts, but that’s what alternative energy experts were proclaiming last Friday (Oct. 6) at the grand opening of the much-anticipated Jackson County Green Energy Park.

 

“This is the first place anywhere to take landfill gas and use it to make biodiesel fuel,” said Timm Muth, director of the Green Energy Park, which is a department of the Jackson County government like recreation and parks or the health department. The park is at the site of the county’s old solid waste landfill near Dillsboro.

“The old conception of a landfill is not only outmoded and outdated, it is lacking in imagination,” said Larry Shirley, director of the North Carolina State Energy Office. “This is an example of what will take place across the nation and the world.”

“This is a very creative project,” chimed in Rachel Goldstein, program manager for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Landfill Methane Outreach Program. “It not only protects the environment, but it leads us toward a sustainable future.”

The $1.2 million methane recovery project includes a private biodiesel company — Smoky Mountain Biofuels — to go with a blacksmith forge that is just the beginning of a crafts village that will use the recovered methane. Methane also will be used to heat greenhouses for growing native plants.

In addition to using the methane produced by the landfill’s decomposing trash, the Green Energy Park in turn will use the created byproducts for park operations. The biodiesel company will use water heated by methane gas to complete the chemical process that separates the glycerin from vegetable oil to create biodiesel fuel that can be used in any diesel engine. Muth also plans to capture the heat from the blacksmith’s forge and use that to help heat the water. Solar panels will be included in the process in the future.

Smoky Mountain Biofuels says it can produce about 1 million gallons a year. Initially it will supply fuel for Jackson County’s government vehicles, Cherokee transit vehicles, and hopefully the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The first public gas station in Jackson County to pump the fuel will be in Cullowhee and could open as early as winter 2007.

— By Scott McLeod

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