Researchers to Grow Tomatoes with Industrial Waste Heat

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Waste heat produced by Canada’s industrial plants could be harnessed to heat greenhouses for growing fresh fruit and vegetables, according to Queen’s University researchers.

Necessary measures for ensuring the cleanliness of the heat and carbon dioxide emissions for greenhouse use also has the potential to reduce the cost of industries’ emissions compliance for future legislation.

“Offsetting major heating costs for greenhouses would help protect food prices from rising fuel costs, which would allow us to grow more—it’s a flat-out economic and environmental advantage for everyone involved,” says Joshua Pearce, a mechanical and materials engineering professor and an expert in renewable energy. “The key concept is partnerships between production plants and food growers. We need to start building a business team mentality here in Canada.”

Partnerships between production plants and food producers could lead to waste heat being used for growing fresh fruit and vegetables, say Joshua Pearce and Rob Andrews from the Department of Materials and Mechanical Engineering.

Dr. Pearce and co-researcher Rob Andrews, a graduate student in the Department of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, examined the quality of waste heat from several thermal plants to determine whether or not it could be used in food production greenhouses.


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While the temperature of waste heat thrown out by thermal plants is too cool for many alternative types of energy generation, it’s perfect for providing the large amounts of low-level heat required by greenhouses. In addition, the waste carbon dioxide produced in the thermal process can be used to feed greenhouse plants to help them grow faster.

By investing in post-treatment options to ensure the waste heat is clean for use in greenhouses, companies can increase their revenue streams by branching out into complementary businesses, such as food production.

The idea of co-production facilities — thermal production plants that use their waste heat to power greenhouses — is a relatively common practice in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, but remains unusual in North America.

For more information, please see the journal article.

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Top image: Wikimedia Commons | Release and lower photo: Queen’s University