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Reinventing the Wheel in East Central Indiana

Local companies and organizations take the lead in creating a sustainable environment.

By Bill Lewis on May 15, 2023

Spring Hill LYRIQ055
Wade Payne/General Motors

Organic farming, electric vehicles, solar power and geothermal energy are examples of how East Central Indiana businesses and organizations are leading the way to a more sustainable future.

General Motors is investing $491 million at its Marion metal stamping operations for the production of steel and aluminum components for electric vehicles and other GM products.

Auto industry supplier TS Tech is harnessing the sun’s energy to power its newly expanded manufacturing facility in New Castle. The company installed a solar power generation system that will provide a major portion of the plant’s energy.

In Muncie, Ball State University has switched from coal burning to geothermal energy.

In Wayne County, Dutch Acres is a successful organic dairy farm.

“There never was a doubt in our minds that if we’d take on this challenge of starting a dairy farm, it would be organic. Working in harmony with nature was in our genes,” says Tineke Veldhuis, owner of Dutch Acres.

The farm was started by her husband, Ypke, whose grandparents were dairy farmers in Friesland, Netherlands.

An Electric Future

GM’s Marion plant has an important role to play in the company’s all-electric future. The factory produces stamped parts for GM vehicles manufactured at a variety of plants. The automaker is phasing out internal combustion engines and is committed to going all-electric by 2035.

GM’s investment in Marion will be used for two new press lines, complete press and die upgrades, renovations, and construction of an approximately 6,000-square-foot addition.

“While this investment prepares the facility for our all-electric future, it’s really an investment in our talented Marion team and will keep the plant working for many years to come,” says Gerald Johnson, executive vice president of global manufacturing and sustainability for GM.

“This investment is another example of the company bringing everyone along and investing in the people who make manufacturing a competitive advantage for GM,” he says.

GM’s investment in the facility is also an investment in the employees and in Marion itself.

“The new stamping presses, upgrades and renovations associated with the investment will create job security for our members and help them care for their families and support their local community for years to come,” says Ray Curry, president of the United Auto Workers.

TS Tech in New Castle
Nathan Lambrecht

Solar Power

At TS Tech Indiana in New Castle, where an expansion was completed in June 2022, a new solar power system with more than 4,000 solar panels and electricity storage capabilities has been installed.

The company aims to cut its carbon dioxide emissions virtually to zero by using the solar power system to generate 50% of the electricity it uses annually while also using energy-saving equipment and renewable energy.

The expansion doubled the size of the Henry County plant to 412,500 square feet, and the company announced the addition of 42 new jobs. TS Tech manufactures automobile seats in New Castle. The plant is a major supplier for Honda Manufacturing of Indiana, which produces vehicles in Greensburg.

Solar power could be coming to Dutch Acres in 2023, which also follows practices designed to increase energy efficiency.

“These are practices supported by the co-op we belong to, Organic Valley, to further the carbon sequestration that is already happening on their member farms,” Veldhuis says.

Dutch Acres, which has 80 milking cows, is also taking other steps to protect the environment. The farm certified additional acreage as organic in 2022 and plans to take over management of another field to make sure it is maintained with organic practices.

“While sustainable and regenerative land management is being practiced more and more, which is crucial to the carbon levels in the atmosphere, organic has always been sustainable and regenerative. Compost application, rotational grazing and ‘agroforestry’ are a few examples we have practiced on our farm for many years now,” Veldhuis says.

“Besides not using chemical inputs, always being non-GMO and being certified against strict standards, organic is about building soil health, protecting the environment, and safeguarding our health and the health of those who consume our products,” she says.

Ball State University
Rebecca & Daniel Jacobson

Geothermal Energy

An $83 million project has transformed Ball State University from coal burning to geothermal energy, heating and cooling 47 campus buildings by freshwater pumped from below the Earth’s surface.

“We knew back in 2000 that our heating system of coal-fired boilers installed in 1941 was outdated, so the university started thinking about alternate ways to heat and cool the campus,” says James Lowe, Ball State associate vice president for facilities planning and management. “The ultimate decision was to use geothermal energy from the Earth, and we’ve been using that system since 2015.”

Lowe says utilizing geothermal energy campuswide instead of fossil fuels saves Ball State more than $3 million annually and eliminates 50,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide that annually went up building smokestacks.

Constructing the geothermal system involved digging 3,600 boreholes into the ground that are each 4 to 5 inches in diameter, and each borehole was dug 400 to 500 feet deep. Then, approximately 1,000 miles of vertical pipes were installed to transport freshwater to a pair of above-ground energy distribution stations on both ends of campus. None of the boreholes can be seen anymore – in fact, a soccer field and a parking lot currently sit atop where many holes were bored.

“We are now totally sustainable, and I get calls all the time from companies and municipalities interested in how our project evolved, and how it impacts our economy and environment,” Lowe says. “It’s an expensive undertaking, so it’s not for everyone. But for us at Ball State, it’s been a tremendous success for several reasons.”

Kevin Litwin contributed to this piece.

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