Those odiferous gases being produced by the old Dillsboro landfill are starting to smell a little sweeter now that they are being used as a renewable energy source at the Jackson County Green Energy Park (JCGEP).
The JCGEP is a landfill recovery program located in Dillsboro, North Carolina. The JCGEP website shares the program’s mission statement - “to offer environmental protection, educational opportunities, and increased economic development to the community through the utilization of landfill gas (LFG) and other clean, renewable energy resources.”
According to the JCGEP director Timm Muth, they’re capturing methane gas from the Dillsboro landfill, and using the gas to fuel their blacksmith forges and foundry, glassblowing studios, and greenhouses.
Methane gas forms naturally when organic materials decompose, and this is abundant at the landfill.
The landfill has been out of commission since 1998 and JCGEP started tapping into the landfill gas in early 2006. JCGEP estimates that they’re preventing 222 tons of methane from entering the atmosphere in Jackson County, which yields the same environmental benefit as planting 1,305 acres of forest.
Methane is very valuable. It can be burned as fuel to power just about anything, including the blacksmith studio at JCGEP. Local artist are able to rent out studio space at the JCGEP, and have free access to the methane gas.
John Burtner started his blacksmith business after moving to Western North Carolina five years ago. According to Burtner, he had always been interested in blacksmith work, and signed up for classes at JCGEP. In less than a year, he began renting out studio space there and creating beautiful pieces of art, cutlery, house-goods and furniture made from an assortment of metals. Burtner attributes much of his success to the access JCGEP has given him to methane gas.
“It’s huge,” says Burtner, “Just ask any blacksmith how much he pays in fuel each month. All I pay is my rent and I am able to use as much methane as I need.”
Burtner sells his work through local galleries, including the Grove Park Inn in Asheville and It’s by Nature in Sylva. Burtner is the only known blacksmith in the world to run his business solely off landfill gas, but he is not the only artist who uses the JCGEP and landfill gas. Another local blacksmith teaches classes in the studio, and eight glass blowers work out of the JCGEP as well.
New and exciting things are in store for JCGEP, as Muth announced on Aug. 12 that they have installed and fired a second refurbished glass furnace. This furnace is more efficient than the previous one, and will be used for glass blowing.
“This furnace holds more molten glass, heats quicker, and uses less gas than many newer models,” said Muth. “Because of the GEP’s better equipment, it’s ease of use, and our very nominal shop fees, more local artists are willing to come to the GEP and blow their glass to sell it in local shops and galleries.”
The furnace was donated by local glass artist Clay Hufford, and is valued at $5,000. “It was a way for me to give something back to Timm and the GEP. I’ve been working at this for a while and the GEP helped me to get a start in glass-blowing,” he says.
JCGEP has more than 1000 visitors each year, and offers daily tours throughout the facility. “We’re able to educate people about renewable energy without being preachy about it,” says Muth. “They see the fire burning, see people making things with them, and that makes it real.”
“People are beginning to understand that all energy resources have an impact on our environment and quality of life. Renewable energy resources offer very little pollution, while the negative impact of fossil fuel extraction and nuclear generation are often hidden or overlooked by the public,” he says. “Educating our next generation about the need for clean energy resources is key to preserving the quality of our environment.”
Muth invites the community to get involved at the Park. “Local citizens can join the Friends of the Green Energy Park to help with volunteer efforts and to raise funding. This upcoming Fall season will present many opportunities for volunteers to get involved” he says.
JCGEP is hosting the Youth Arts Festival on September 17th from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m. Muth promises hands-on craft demonstrations, music and activities for children. Citizens can also benefit from the education opportunities at JCGEP, including glass blowing, chainmaille and child and parent blacksmith classes. Visit the JCGEP website at www.jcgep.org for more information.