Henderson County-based Fluidyne International CEO Jim Manning checks part of the boiler system at the Buncombe County Detention Center. Photo by Kathleen O. Davis.

The burgeoning business of clean energy in Western North Carolina is something Jim Manning actually has been involved with for decades.

Manning is the owner and CEO of Fluidyne International LLC, a Henderson County-based company that uses a patented method of conditioning water in commercial and industrial steam boilers that is chemical-free, reduces the amount of water required and decreases maintenance costs by increasing operational efficiency.

During a check Wednesday morning of boilers at the Buncombe County Detention Center in Asheville where his technology has been implemented since February 2010, Manning explained how his process uses magnetism and the physics principle of Brownian movement to condition water in the boilers.

The method lowers operating and maintenance costs, reduces wastewater treatment impacts, prevents hard water scale and corrosion in boiler systems and omits the need for caustic, hazardous additives, he said.

Manning, who founded his company in 1978, said he developed the process because of its “efficiency and that it eliminates the need for chemicals. I saw it as an opportunity that other people weren’t thinking of.”

Rapid growth in the region of entrepreneur-driven, eco-friendly companies like Manning’s is the foundation for the EvolveEnergy Partnership, a multi-organizational, 31-county initiative focused on fostering the formation of more clean-energy companies in the area and making Western North Carolina known nationally and worldwide as a hub for these green ventures.

Results of a seven-month-long study of the WNC clean-energy sector by the Austin-based economic development consulting firm Angelou Economics were shared mid-October at a presentation in Asheville.

The EvolveEnergy Partnership project study area encompasses Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Catawba, Cherokee, Clay, Cleveland, Davie, Forsyth, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, Macon, Madison, McDowell, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin and Yancey counties.

Clean-energy businesses and projects specifically being looked at are ones involved with renewable energy, energy efficiency, and alternative fuel and vehicle technologies.

Next Thursday, a leadership group with about 35 members from partnering organizations will meet “to begin discussing the implementation of several action items from the study and participants’ roles and responsibilities,” said Matt Raker, the vice president of entrepreneurship and AdvantageGreen at AdvantageWest, the regional economic development partnership serving 23 counties in Western North Carolina.

Creating clean-energy clusters

The study determined that growth in employment and in the number of establishments involved in the business of clean energy in WNC outpaced the clean-energy sector’s growth in the United States as a whole by 4.3 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively.

Because the study said Buncombe and Henderson counties experienced “the highest volume of growth in employment and establishments in clean energy-related industries,” the Buncombe-Henderson county area was identified as one of the areas in Western North Carolina with already occurring clustering of clean-energy endeavors.

Jim Manning’s Fluidyne International in Hendersonville is just one example of Henderson County’s array of clean-energy initiatives. AdvantageWest’s Matt Raker said other examples include a solar energy system at the Kimberly-Clark Corp. plant, a solar-thermal energy system at Kanuga Conferences, multiple green-building companies and Materials Innovation Technologies which works with carbon fiber and other advanced materials for the automotive, aerospace and other industries.

The overarching recommendation of the Angelou Economics report was to build on these clusters to “grow Western North Carolina as a hub for clean energy,” Angelou Economics Principal Executive Officer Angelos Angelou said at the public roll-out of the report.

Angelou said the region has “significant” assets to help achieve economic development in the clean-energy sector, including a competitive workforce with a manufacturing heritage, access to wind resources in the Blue Ridge Mountains for wind power and an “abundant” access to biomass such as methane from landfills.

Challenges WNC faces, Angelou said, include what he called “lifestyle” entrepreneurs not interested in growing their businesses beyond the region, a shortage of engineers in the area, few suppliers and maintenance services for the energy-efficient business sector and limited venture capital for investment into the clean-energy sector in the region.

A lack of awareness about Western North Carolina’s clean energy businesses both in the region and outside of it is another challenge Angelou identified and one that Matt Raker of AdvantageWest said the EvolveEnergy Partnership leadership group is beginning to tackle.

“We’re really working to promote the success stories that aren’t that recognized right now,” Raker said, “and we’re working with county leaders across Western North Carolina about the study’s findings to help them integrate clean-energy strategies into their county-level economic development efforts.”

For more about the EvolveEnergy Partnership, read the:

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Kathleen O'Nan is a contributing reporter to Carolina Public Press.

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