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Off-the-grid facility creates health and beauty product

John Seelmeyer

For most manufacturers, the availability of reasonably priced power from a reliable electric utility is a big deal.

For Black Rock Mud Co., not so much.

The company’s facility near Gerlach is entirely off the grid, and its owners expect to keep it that way even as they add equipment to create new product lines.

“We’re trying to give more than lip service to being green,” says Shelly Egbert, who co-founded the company with Summer Powelson in mid-2010. “We always want to stay off the grid, and so far we’ve been doing it fingers crossed.”

The company’s markets its mud product, produced from the Great Boiling Springs in the Black Rock Desert, as a completely natural method of promoting healthy skin.

It’s selling the four-ounce jars through its Web site, and it’s begun to open traditional retail channels with sales at You Spa and Lime Spa, both in Reno.

Demand has grown enough that Powelson and Egbert who have 11 children between them gather up some of their offspring a couple of times a week and head for the Black Rock Mud Co. packaging plant.

The 2,400-square-foot facility is heated by water that’s piped from the nearby Great Boiling Springs to a heat exchanger to create radiant hot water heating in the building’s floor.

A small array of solar photovoltaic cells provides the basis of the facility’s need for electricity, and a small wind-generation system provides additional power. Batteries store electricity during sunny and breezy times of the day for use when the renewable systems aren’t operating.

A renewable-power system isn’t inexpensive, Egbert acknowledges, but neither is the cost of stringing power lines across the desert to the remote Great Boiling Springs location.

In fact, she says the costs were roughly equivalent.

The company relies on another type of renewable energy sweat and muscle for some of its production requirements.

Its signature mud is shoveled by hand from bubbling mudpots on the property. It’s packed by hand into jars.

While the company’s off-the-grid operation results in large measure from the economics of its location, Black Rock Mud also markets its reliance on renewable energy as part of its overall strategy of sustainable business practices.

Its boxes and the business cards of its founders are embedded with wildflower seeds, for instance, and its plastic jars are reusable and recyclable.

For its efforts, which consumed much of the founders’ attention for more than a year, Black Rock Mud won the HBA Global Expo International Green Package Design Award at a health-and-beauty trade show in July.

As the company makes plans to widen into products that require more processing and more power consumption Egbert says its founders are studying addition of technology to use geothermal resources at the property to generate electricity.

The Great Boiling Springs property was acquired by Egbert’s father, David Jamieson, 16 years ago, and Egbert began experimenting with the muds after hearing tales of natives who have been visiting the mud baths for centuries.