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Hydroponics Produces Power for People and Greenhouse

May 16, 2008
While many business owners would not care for the idea of a power plant being built next door to their company, Great Northern Hydroponics saw instead an exciting opportunity. The company, located 25 miles southeast of Windsor, operates a 50-acre greenhouse where more than 2.1 million cases of gourmet tomatoes are grown and supplied annually to grocery stores and restaurants in and around metro Detroit.

As it turns out, the so called tri-generation facility - the plant burns natural gas to generate heat, electricity, and CO2 - will also save Great Northern plenty of money. But the Ontario province gains advantages as well. For example, the greenhouse will act as a cooling unit for the power plant's engines, which transmit electricity to approximately 5,000 homes. In fact, Great Northern's President Darrin Didychuk signed a 20-year power purchase contract with the government of Ontario to generate the 12 mega-watt electrical power facility.

The CO2, meanwhile, will be consumed by the tomato plants in the greenhouse. Because carbon dioxide is a key component of photosynthesis, the energy facility will also provide the greenhouse with this necessary "fertilizer" for the greenhouse's tomato crop.

That's on top of other innovative growing practices, including raised troughs, run-off fertilizer recycling, computerized louvers and climate controls, as well as biological pest management. All of which results in tomatoes that are high in nutrients. The tomatoes are also pesticide- and herbicide-free, and have a long shelf life.

Construction on the plant started in Spring 2007 and was completed in December 2007. It is one of seven cogeneration projects recently approved by the Ontario Power Authority (OPA) as the agency seeks to diversify the region's energy supply.

General Electric's Jenbacher worldwide Center of Excellence in the Netherlands developed the technology for CO2-fertilization in greenhouses. CO2 - a key component in the process of photosynthesis - is present in the engines' exhaust gas. After the purification of the exhaust gas with special catalytic converters, the gas is cooled down and supplied to the greenhouse crop for CO2 enrichment.

Additionally, thermal energy from GE's engines will be stored in hot water tanks and deployed to heat the greenhouse.

As a result of installing the special cogeneration system, Great Northern Hydroponics will be able to reduce its energy costs without curtailing its annual production levels, thus improving its competitive position in the commercial tomato industry.

"The project is an important one for GE Energy, as it represents the first Jenbacher CO2 fertilization cogeneration system to be installed in North America," said Prady Iyyanki, CEO of GE Energy's Jenbacher gas engine business. "While this is a common application in the Netherlands, where our Center of Excellence for this application is located as well, [the Great Northern} company plant will serve as an important reference project for our customers in North America."

"The project represents the only one of its kind and will be the most technically advanced and environmentally sustainable projects of its kind anywhere in North America," explained Didychuk.
GE's authorized Jenbacher gas engine distributor, DDA Canada East, supplies the cogeneration modules while GE Energy is providing balance of plant (BOP), project management and plant installation services through its Center of Excellence for greenhouse applications in the Netherlands.

GE Energy's Jenbacher gas engine business is a leading manufacturer of gas-fueled reciprocating engines, packaged generator sets and cogeneration systems for power generation.
About the Author
Soave Enterprises is a privately held, Detroit-based company with holdings in dozens of companies. Its substantial financial and managerial resources bring strength to these entities.
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