With over 1600 acres of greenhouses and five major food processing plants the Leamington/Kingsville area on the Southern Ontario shores of Lake Erie is the greenhouse capital of Canada.
Over 60% of Ontario's greenhouses are located in this region, representing the largest concentration of greenhouses in North America.
To deliver a continuous supply of high-quality produce, commercial greenhouses in this area require a consistent source of heat throughout the year.
While solar energy provides a significant portion of the required heat energy, supplemental systems are required to support year-round greenhouse operations.
Organic tomato and cucumber producer, Pelee Hydroponics, has used a conventional boiler plant fuelled by natural gas to provide energy for a steam heating system in the company's six acres of greenhouses.
However, the steep rise in the cost of fuel has prompted the company to look for a more affordable way to generate heat.
"Heat is the lifeblood of a greenhouse operation, but the rising price of fuel in the past few years dramatically drove up our costs," explained Dennis Dick, owner of Pelee Hydroponics.
"To keep our produce affordable, we required a less expensive, more consistent source of heat. And as a grower of organic produce, we also strongly desired a greener solution."
An opportunity not to be wasted
The owners of Pelee Hydroponics partnered with Alpenglow Energy and Gemini Power -both sustainable energy firms, to form Seacliff Energy.
In 2009, Seacliff began construction on a $6.5 million Anaerobic Digestion (AD) facility to treat vegetable and animal waste from local farms and greenhouses and produce heat, electricity and natural fertilizer.
Seacliff collects vegetable and animal waste from nearby farms and greenhouses, generating enough biogas to fuel a power plant designed and supplied by the local Caterpillar dealer, Toromont Cat Power Systems.
According to Cat, the facility is the first installation of its kind in Canada, the two-stage agriculture biodigestion technology used by Seacliff works in stages like a cow's stomach to break down 50 kinds of by utilising different bacteria and varying temperatures.
By contrast, Cat said that single-stage digesters currently used in most municipal landfills work more slowly and can generally break down only one type of waste at a time.
This plant is designed to use two Cat G3520C 60 Hz 1.6 MW gas generator sets as part of a combined heat and power (CHP) solution that meets Pelee Hydroponics' need for heat in their greenhouses.
Excess heat can be pumped to neighbouring greenhouses, while all electricity generated by the plant is sold to the Ontario Power grid.
Project financing for the construction and operation phases was supplied by Cat Financial.
Seacliff also secured a long term service agreement with Toromont to mitigate operational risks, maintain equipment efficiencies and ensure high levels of availability.
Big plans for the future
According to Cat, phase I of the Seacliff construction project was completed in late 2010, and the facility began supplying power to the grid from a single G3520C generator set in January 2011.
Phase II, which includes the installation of a second G3520C generator set, will begin in mid-2012 once a Feed-In Tariff (FIT) is granted by the Ontario Power Authority. Seacliff executives expect Phase II to be operational in late 2013.
The facility can currently process up to 40,000 metric tonnes of organic waste per year, which Cat said will increase to 100,000 metric once Phase II is complete.
Once phase II is complete Seacliff said that it will have the largest energy producing anaerobic digester in North America.
The operators said that the facility provides multiple benefits to nearby greenhouses and farms, food processing plants and local residents.
Seacliff charges lower tipping fees for local food processing plants to dispose of their organic waste, which reduces food costs and the need to expand nearby landfills. Digestate, a natural fertilizer, can be used by local corn farms.
At the conclusion of Phase II, Cat said that the system will produce enough electricity for 2400 homes and, by using renewable biogas, it will decrease dependence on fossil fuels while reducing emissions of carbon dioxide by about 10,400 tonnes per year.
"This facility provides benefits not only to our own greenhouses, but also for neighboring farms and the community as a whole," Dick said.
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