Reduce, Reuse, Recycle – we hear it all the time, everyone says we should do it. We know that its what the Earth needs from us to thrive, but is it possible that being environmentally friendly can also be a huge advantage for businesses? Is it possible to use new technology to reduce your Carbon footprint, while also reducing your expenses? To all of this I give a resounding YES!
My name is Dave Froese and I am the Energy Manager here at NatureFresh™ Farms, an agricultural and greenhouse company located in Leamington, Ontario and Delta, Ohio. I’ve been part of the NatureFresh™ team for over 10 years and since day 1 I’ve been working on projects and finding solutions for the energy challenges we face everyday. Today I’ll try my best to explain many of the ways our greenhouse operation uses technology to manage energy usage and environmental responsibility. We deal with wood combustion, Carbon Dioxide (CO2) reactions, water reclamation/treatment, and electricity management every day to make sure we’re not only growing the best veggies around, but also using our resources in the most efficient way! As you’ll learn, all of these different types of energies interact with each other and its our team’s job to make sure we always have the technology in place to be the leader in our industry!
NatureFresh™ Farms is part of the government ICI program. ICI stands for Industrial Conservation Initiative and its mission is to work with businesses to control their energy usage, and if we do, we get savings on our energy bill! What we have to do is stay below a specific energy usage rate during the 5 peak periods in the province of Ontario, they call it the High 5. We can save money by using less resources, which means we will need to buy less resources, which also means less costs, it’s a win-win! So how do we do this?
Let’s start with the greenhouse temperature, we have a goal at NatureFresh™ to grow all year round and that can be challenging, especially during the winter months, when the outside temperatures are cold. What we do is create heat that is released inside the greenhouse through pipes, it allows our plants to still grow in their ideal temperature. Re-used water flows through the pipes in a cycle that allows the water to be heated through the burning of materials (we’ll get to that below), the heat is then released into the greenhouse space through each growing row. The water returns to boilers to heat up again and repeat the cycle! Our heating system was designed with resource efficiency in mind as the water is never in contact with any outside material and because of this, we can reuse the water without any contamination. This reduces the demand on the local community’s water supply and we ensure that we’re not returning polluted water back to the area.
We have very specific sensors within each greenhouse to ensure that the temperature remains at the proper level at all times, which also allows us to control our resources efficiently. The heat is created through the burning of wood and the burning of gas. During the cold winter months, we always start with the burning of the wood, this valuable material that we actually save from going to the landfill! You got it, we search across Ontario for large quantities of wood that would normally be headed straight for the trash, and bring it back to our facilities to re-use as an energy source. Each year, over 15,000 tons (about the same weight as 7500 cars) of repurposed wood is used to heat our greenhouses. The more effectively we can use the wood to heat the greenhouse, the less gas we will need to purchase and burn, helping our costs and carbon footprint!
Our greenhouses have the ability to store the heat energy that we generate by using our integrated boiler system. NatureFresh™ facilities have a cohesive heating unit that allows us to efficiently heat and store the water, which is critical in keeping the greenhouse temperature constant. These systems allow us to store the heat for an extended period of time, which helps us in two ways: first, by having a storage of heat at all times, we can run the boilers at a lower flame, which is better for our gas usage, and second, if there every comes a time where our systems shut down, we have over 12 hours of heat stored to keep things running smoothly, that type of flexibility is so important!
No matter what we burn, we have to consider our CO2 situation: as you may know Carbon Dioxide is a critical ingredient for the survival of plants and it’s our job to make sure that they always have the correct level of CO2 in the greenhouse for them to grow. Carbon Dioxide levels are constantly being recorded to ensure that we remain at the proper level. The greenhouses operate in a unique feedback loop that requires the production of CO2 to heat the space, and then the consumption of that same CO2 by the plants to ensure their health.
One of the best parts of my job is that each day I get the chance to work on new projects that help make our energy usage more efficient. It is an exciting and challenging task, and one that we know that will make a huge impact on our business and the environment. They key for us is to find new techniques and to utilize the most advanced technology to ensure that the transfer from fuel to energy is happening at the highest efficiency possible. As you learned above, not only will these advances create an environmentally sustainable operation, but they will also be affecting our balance sheet and finances. Being responsible with your resources becomes one of the most powerful business advantages that you can have. In the business world today, it is important to focus on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. Here at NatureFresh™, our drive to continuously develop and compare ourselves to the world leaders is what keeps us motivated: the team has been travelling around the world looking at some the best practices of leading companies and we are excited to take what we have learned and bring it back to NatureFresh™! Some of these projects are top secret, and we can’t share just yet but stayed tuned for some exciting news coming up!
The world of energy and tech is so large and exciting that I could spend all day writing about it, but I think I’ll leave it at this for now! When you can wake up every morning and know that the work you’re doing can leave a long-lasting impact on the company, and even larger, the world, you feel pretty good! I hope that I have shown today the endless possibilities that exist in our industry. Thanks for reading!