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Thursday, July 24, 2008

We spent most of the morning out in Pittsboro with Lyle Estill at Piedmont Biofuels, one of the largest renewable energy projects on the East Coast. Literally begun as a garage project in Estill's backyard, Piedmont Biofuels grew into a cooperative for approximately 600 local users before incorporating as an industrial site that sells biodiesel for blending with commercial petroleum.

Estill's a great guy and Piedmont's a fascinating and important project, which I'll have a lot more to say about in an longish Indy article we're working on about responses to Peak Oil in the Triangle. (One of the things that won't be in the article are some more Kim-Stanley-Robinson-inspired, science-fictiony thoughts on Utopia, particularly Robinson's critique of enclavism and his advocacy of distributed Utopian nodes, dispersed in a network and immanent to the system they oppose. That's the switch from the biodiesel cooperative to Piedmont Biofuels Industrial, LLC, and I think it's pretty interesting.)

In the meantime, here's the FAQ, and here are the pictures Jaimee took while we were out there. What's impressive is not just how clean everything is, but the lengths to which the group has endeavored to make the project both sustainable and ecologically friendly—alongside the biodiesel plants are sustainable farms, hydroponic greenhouses, biodiversity gardens, waste-product reclamation, and a huge vermicomposting bin.

All in all, it's a pretty ecotopian place.