Aeroponics firm dreaming big for Lovelock operation

Aeroponics proponent Gary Burton has big plans for Lovelock: Acres of oily plants to grow biodiesel fuel for truck stops on Interstate 80. Mist-grown strawberries shipped to lucrative East Coast markets. Modular aeroponic chambers to install in restaurants. Educational aeroponic kits for classrooms. Biodiesel algae farms in Brazil. And at the fore of it all, a research institute situated near the University of Nevada, Reno.

Burton has been stirring up that super sized salad of big ideas for two decades. And he's weathered a couple of false starts in Lovelock along the way.

But after a 1997 visit to the Pershing County Industrial Park, he remains sold on the site as an ideal shipping point. He envisions produce riding the fast trains that run through Lovelock en route to the East Coast. He cites low cost of land as another plus, along with 12,000 acres owned by a friend near Mill City, about 25 miles east of Lovelock.

Oregon-based Burton, who became fascinated with aeroponic technology in the early 1980s, teamed with associates Eitan Hod, an aeroponics expert and Joe Agius, a hydroponics specialist. In January they plan to form Global Aeroponic Institute, LLC.

Investors include Australia-based A&B Hydroponics and some Pershing County residents. Scientists from Israel with expertise in aeroponic cell cultures are also on board.

The directors, along with a handful of associates, are seeking a site near UNR on which to situate the institute.

"It's been my life for the past 10 years," says Burton, who plans to move to Reno.

To start, he envisions planting an acre or two of the hardy Jatropha curcas plant (related to the castor plant) pressed to produce oil for diesel fuel additive. It's the start of a plan to convert 6,000 acres to biodiesel crop production.

And he envisions test marketing growing chambers in which fresh herbs thrive on a fine mist of nutrients aeroponics that restaurants, grocery stores and even casinos would install.

To spread the word, he wants to produce educational kits and donate them to grade and high schools for use in training programs. And make cell culture kits. And publish the "World Guide to Aeroponics."

But Burton's airy ideas have run afoul of reality in the past.

He cites a first attempt in Lovelock that failed because the system did not work on a large scale. A second attempt got snagged on finance and patent problems. And a third attempt tanked after he discovered that sellers of a system didn't legally own the technology.

"I feel I let the people of Lovelock down," he said. "I feel really terrible about it."

But Burton looks beyond immediate roadblocks to a whole world hungry for solutions to shortages of land and water.

"We've made trips to Brazil, to produce a unit for families to grow their own produce via aeroponics, where officials say it would help save the Amazon rain forest. We will launch our system at Biofach, a trade show in Brazil, to introduce aeroponics to South America."


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