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One of the artists at this year’s Déjà Vu and Fine Craft Show created his glassworks with heat produced from landfill gas.
For about six years, Aaron Shufelt has produced his works at the Jackson County Green Energy Park in Sylva, N.C., which includes greenhouses and rental studios for pottery, metalworking and glassblowing.
To power forges and other equipment, the artists in their studios use methane gas generated by a closed landfill across the street. The process lowers the rental rates for the artists and prevents about 222 tons of methane, a greenhouse gas, from entering the atmosphere. The project offsets 550 tons of carbon dioxide, the equivalent of planting 1,305 acres of forest, according to the park’s website.
A team of local Cummins employees recommended a similar project for the old Bartholomew County landfill in Petersville — though local officials worried about initial costs and that the project may not get by without an annual cash infusion from the government and/or private sector.
Shufelt said that the incubator helped him especially because of the lower rental rates, which are critical to help young artists. He said he pays $35 per hour to use the shop’s equipment, about half what some other shops require, although some of those may offer more equipment.
The lower cost also allows beginning artists to spend more time in the shop, to experiment and get familiar with the tools, he said.
But the gas is free, Shufelt said, because it is generated by the landfill.
“We’ve had the same percentage of methane content for the six years that I’ve been out there.”
Shufelt will sell sculptures, wine glasses, ornaments and other items at the Déjà Vu show Nov. 16 at The Commons.
A team of Cummins employees in August recommended gas generated by the local landfill near Jonesville eventually be captured and sold to a utility, although the project likely would not make economic sense for at least another decade.
The team also identified possible and more immediate uses for Bartholomew County’s smaller landfill in Petersville, including a greenhouse, recycling education center or artist incubator.
Alberth Franco, a high-horsepower natural gas product validation engineer, estimated that a small-scale greenhouse and needed piping would cost about $45,000, and a generator could be acquired through a partnership with Cummins.
Jim Murray, Bartholomew County Solid Waste Management District director, said he was confident that initial costs for such a project could be raised, but he said making any project self-sustaining would be more challenging.
“It is my understanding that both projects in North Carolina struggle to maintain their operations without sustaining grants,” Murray said this week via email.
Since its launch in 2005, the Jackson County Green Energy Park has required funds from the county government and grant injections from government agencies and foundations, said Timm Muth, the park’s director, who also is a county employee.
Muth said that officials in North Carolina faced simply burning the excess gas — as it is done in Petersville — but decided they would prefer to invest in the greenhouses and artist incubator as a form of economic development.
Muth said he expects that within the next five years, revenues will cover about 75 percent of the park’s annual operating costs.
He suggested that communities that are considering a similar project make sure that they play to their strengths. A community with a lot of timber companies, for example, could use the methane to dry timber, Muth said, while another community could use the gas to burn medical waste.
“You need to try to match the energy resource to that particular community,” Muth said.
Murray said that an artist incubator could boost Columbus’ local arts trade.
“It is my hope that further investigation of this idea could bear fruit,” he said.
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