New Carbon-Negative Community Loves Their Waste

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Mantria Bluffs Development… for production of renewable energy and maybe carbon sequestration.

Carbon neutral is gaining popularity these days, but Mantria Corporation is taking it a step further.

“We pledge Mantria Place will be the first carbon negative community in the nation by 2011,” states Troy Wragg, Mantria Corporation Chairman and CEO. “Carbon neutral is simply not good enough given today’s environmental issues. At Mantria, we believe that we must go much further to truly help our planet. Our goal is to be carbon negative.”

Located in Sequatchie County, Tennessee,  Mantria Place will be Tennessee’s largest master planned community weighing it at 5,500 acres. Nearly half of that will be green space in addition to two championship golf courses. A big question looms: can new, luxurious development really be green? With luxuries like two golf courses, how can their carbon footprint make it below par? Mr. Troy Wragg was kind enough to speak with me to answer that very question. Chip in a few dollars a month to help support independent cleantech coverage that helps to accelerate the cleantech revolution!

Indian Trails DevelopmentThere is a conflict between sustainability and new development. On one hand, there’s the argument that our world is finite and expanding farther out from cities, into undeveloped lands, it not sustainable. Generally speaking, urban dwellers have a smaller footprint than suburbanites or rural residents. One the other hand, there’s the argument that if you’re going to develop, do it right with as little environmental impact as possible. That is exactly what Mantria does.

So how do you develop a carbon-negative community (PDF)? Begin by calculating carbon usage. Mantria seems to have covered their bases here. They’ve calculated everything from long-term water usage for the golf courses to the CO2 emissions of residents as they drive between local towns and cities. They even calculated paper usage in the community restaurants. Mantria will try to minimize their impact on the land itself by building with and around natural contours. Mantria fuels their bulldozers with biodiesel. They offset uprooted trees by planting new ones, acre for acre, through various non-profits. They use organic concrete and faux rock, and synthetic lumber to reduce reliance on non-renewable resources. More details are offered here.

Yet these measures alone do not subtract to carbon negativity. Mr. Wragg admitted to me that buying offsets are a large part of this claim. But even offsets can’t make a community carbon negative, so Mantria Place will generate all of its own electricity from a clean, renewable source: their own waste. We’re not just talking about garbage. They can use agricultural and landscaping waste, old tires; even their own sewage if they so desire. It will all go into an inconspicuous 1/4 acre lot and come out as clean, green electricity.

U. of Hawaii charcoal Fuel CellFlash Carbonization burns biomass under high pressure. The result is charcoal and the exhaust is mostly steam, which turns a turbine. With this system, Mr. Wragg expects to generate enough power for 3,000 homes with excess to sell to the grid. They receive this technology through a partnership with and the University of Hawaii. These devices are portable, scalable, and relatively inexpensive. They capture carbon and transform it into charcoal, which we can safely bury in the soil as a natural fertilizer AND carbon sequestration. It can also absorb other chemicals, including toxins and poisons. Traditionally charcoal was burning for fuel until the Industrial Revolution.

So this fancy development sounds expensive, right? Mantria Communities are not exclusively for the super-rich.  Rather, the corporation tries to keep the price low for retirees, and to prove that “going green” does not require spending green. Lots in many of their other communities tend to be small, ranging from less than an acre to five acres. Since Mantria Place is still being planned, information on lots (and by extension house sizes) are not yet available.

I’m eager to hear readers’ opinions on this one.

Related Articles:

The Future of Garbage another way to make energy from waste

Charcoal and Terra Preta

Plasma Gasification for ethanol from garbage

Images of Indian Trails Development and Mantria Bluffs Development courtesy of Mantria Corporation. Flash Carbonization charcoal fuel cell via the Hawaii Natural Energy Institute.

Many thanks to Amber Kealy and Troy Wragg for their valuable time!

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