More Fuels For The Fire

More Fuels For The Fire

Over the past year of coverage, we’ve tried to highlight all the different ways you can keep from burning up fuel, and therefore money, wastefully. From growing cooler to buying larger plugs to fuel purchasing strategies to production zoning and maintenance scheduling, each of our 14 articles confronted a single issue head-on, hopefully giving you something to take away and use in your business. As the survey results from our Benchrunner e-newsletter (available at www.greenhousegrower.com/benchrunner) show, fluctuating fossil fuel prices have many growers looking elsewhere to fulfill their heating needs. For this final installment, we’ve taken this most talked-about and fastest-developing part of the greenhouse business — alternative energy —and provided an overview that may spark one final energy-saving idea for your operation.

Close Your Greenhouse

The talk at the prestigious Horti Fair Innovation Awards last year was all about the “closed greenhouse” concept. This year, the talk focused instead on “semi-closed” greenhouses, a less ambitious but more realistic goal. There are six to eight semi-closed concepts under development in Holland, and installations are taking place currently in both Canada and California. One of these concepts, the Aircokas, involves using misting equipment during high sunlight hours to cool the greenhouse. Along with vertical fans designed to create even temperature distribution, this system can save more than 30 percent in fossil fuel consumption. Another concept showcased by Priva at the Horti Fair show uses perforated tubes under greenhouse benches to achieve the same vertical standardization of air mass temperature.

However, no matter what happens inside the greenhouse proper, the backbone of this type of system involves the storage of solar energy in hot and cold water in aquifers under the greenhouse in geothermal wells drilled deep enough underground to be unaffected by seasonal temperatures. These aquifers are large. The ratio suggested at research presentations in Holland recently was 4:1 for aquifer to greenhouse area, so the storage area you need may extend beyond your property. Government regulations are an obvious factor here, as are practical considerations (such as proximity to town wells, groundwater movement, etc.). Finally, consider that this is developing technology, and it may be years before it is perfected. Regardless, the potential for savings with any of these closed systems make aquifer heat storage worth investigating. Contact your Extension agent and/or controls company for more information on your area’s potential.

Learning Curve

Our online coverage of this year’s Horti Fair (available at www.greenhousegrower.com/hortifair) detailed how Litchfield, Mich.-based Raker Inc. recently installed a wind testing device in order to study the possibility of using a wind turbine to power its electrical system. According to Raker’s maintenance manager Robert Mitchell, “When the winter months come around, our light bills get ugly, so we’re trying to find a better solution than to keep paying the gas man.”

As far as alternative sources go, many growers have already jumped on the alternative fuel-powered train. Over the course of this past year, we’ve covered any number of them (both in print and online), from the pelletized coal burner at Ohio-based Cedar Lane Farms, to the waste wood boilers at Arkansas-based Parks Brothers, to the landfill methane gas boiler at Indiana’s Crossroads Greenhouse, to the biomass boilers at Michigan-based Walters Gardens and Dickerson’s Greenhouses. All are reporting successful experiments so far and don’t see the verdict changing anytime soon.

Alec Mackenzie of Argus Controls, while enthusiastic about the potential for alternative fuels, has some cautionary tales for growers looking to disconnect from the natural gas pipeline.

“Alternative energy systems are well worth considering, but they must be properly engineered and integrated with the rest of your operation,” he says. “The money saved by these systems usually more than justifies this level of commitment, but there is no point starting a project if you are not completely committed to seeing it through.” In other words, growers must commit to a learning curve for the ongoing maintenance and operational management required by a new fuel source. For instance, the electric boiler at Metrolina Greenhouses took months to integrate into the system, but according to maintenance manager Cor Zethof, “Now it’s running like a little baby,” and pumping out 2,200 gal./min. of hot water at an off-peak electrical price of a few cents.

Mackenzie points out that most greenhouse operations will find 80 to 90 percent or more of their total annual energy bill will be burned in the first 50 percent of total heating capacity and only 10 to 20 percent burned in the remaining 50 percent. Therefore, it makes sense to invest in an economically superior alternative fuel boiler in order to transfer that first 50 percent while still using a pre-existing gas- or oil-fired heating equipment as a backup. Fuel costs for this additional heating equipment will be high, but only when they are running, and as an added bonus. Growers following this framework will also have some great on-line redundancy should something go wrong with the primary, alternative-fueled boiler.

Growers looking to invest in such equipment should consider investing in the full system, including a hot water storage tank (also known as a heat buffer or decoupling system). These store excess heat to assist with future peak heat demand, thereby allowing the user to purchase a smaller, less expensive alternative fuel system and still satisfy most, if not all, greenhouse demands by running it continuously at optimal firing rates, 24 hours a day.

Keep It Clean

Finally, Mackenzie says, there are some common-sense steps that interested growers should take, including:

  • Optimizing boiler operation to suit the fuel being burned, not the greenhouse demand. Most alternate fuels (coal, biomass, etc.) don’t respond well to the rapid demand fluctuations of a greenhouse.
  • Decoupling the heat producer (boiler) from the load (greenhouse) by using heat storage or heat buffers, or by only running base load on the alternate fuel while using a fast responding heat source (usually natural gas) to support the fluctuating demand.
  • Make sure you have very stable, long-term fuel sources under contract, or at least several competitive fuel sources readily available before you commit to a major capital investment.
  • Pay particular attention to the quality of the alternate fuel to ensure it stays close to optimal specifications. You don’t need wildly varying moisture content interfering with efficient, clean combustion. You also don’t need rocks and metal debris in your feed augers!
  • Go with clean-burning technology. Your greenhouse will be the first to notice if you are dumping soot and pollution, and your neighbors (not to mention the Feds) won’t be too far behind!

Leave a Reply

More From Finance/Operations...

April 20, 2015

Three Michigan State University On-Demand Webinars Offer Effective Strategies For Insect And Disease Control On Vegetables

The first rule of effective insect and disease control for vegetables is to take action to prevent problems before they occur. But in order to do that, you need to have an effective pest and disease management strategy in place that incorporates best practices to ensure a successful outcome. Michigan State University offers three pest and disease management on-demand webinars that will get you started and keep you on the right track.

Read More
Celosia dragon's breath_Sakata

April 20, 2015

Sakata’s Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ Steals The Show In Salinas

Since January, when I first saw celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ in the landscape at Costa Farms’ Season Premier, I knew it looked like a great plant that would garner some serious attention. And sure enough, up and down the trials road, people were talking about Sakata’s hot new introduction. Celosia ‘Dragon’s Breath’ is a seed-propagated, plume-type celosia that is said to actually perform better with less fertilizer and water. If it’s fed too much, its dark leaves lose their reddish-purple coloring and turn green, and by restricting water, it tends to bloom more. It tends to be a more vigorous plant than other plume-type celosias, and its large blooms are quite attractive. Sakata also introduced a new series of African Marigolds. Proud Mari comes in Orange, Yellow and Gold, and has huge, fist-sized flowers that bloom vigorously. New colors in SuperCal petunias are L.A. Yellow and Pink, and they are fabulous additions […]

Read More

April 17, 2015

Sakata Seed Uses California Spring Trials Display Plants To Give Back

Sakata Seed America is putting its post-CAST (California Spring Trials) plants and flowers to good use to support events in local California communities of Salinas and Morgan Hill. The plants, along with donations through Sakata's Charitable Giving Program, will support three fun-filled community events that promote healthy lifestyles and support the agricultural industry.

Read More
Latest Stories
Syngenta logo

April 15, 2015

Syngenta Names Chris Freeman Senior Key Account Manager…

Chris Freeman is the new senior key account manager for Syngenta Flowers, Home & Garden's Commercial Sales business in the Americas, effective March 2015. Freeman, who joined Syngenta in 2006, carries more than 25 years of experience in the agriculture and floriculture business.

Read More
Lake Buchanan_LCRA

April 10, 2015

USDA Designates Areas Of West And Southwest As Drought …

The ongoing drought has resulted in disaster area designations in counties across nine Western and Southwestern states, including Texas, where some reservoirs are at or near historically low levels.

Read More

April 9, 2015

Altman Plants’ Online Cactus Shop Shows Strong Sa…

Altman Plants recently opened its new Cactus Shop, an online retail store that sells a variety of cactus and succulents. The store is a take-off of Altman’s original wholesale business, as the company started as a mail order catalog.

Read More
Dummen

April 8, 2015

Dümmen Group Welcomes Jim Devereux And Andrew Konicki T…

Dümmen group recently announced the addition of Jim Devereux and Andrew Konicki to its team. They are the newest members of the Key Account and Broker Support team for Dümmen, and will be responsible for building, developing and maintaining current broker and grower customer relationships.

Read More
Gov._Jerry_Brown_California

April 8, 2015

California Institutes First Ever Statewide Mandatory Wa…

California Gov. Jerry Brown announced April 1 that, for the first time in state history, action will be taken to implement mandatory water restrictions, with the ultimate goal of reducing water usage by 25 percent. As Californians are pushed to conserve more, growers will need to think about how demand for products will be affected.

Read More
DNA-logo

March 31, 2015

DNA Green Group Will Acquire Rijnplant

DNA Green Group and Riknplant have finalized DNA Green Group's acquisition of Rijnplant, meaning that the breeding and propagation activities in pot and cut anthurium, bougainvillea and heliconia will transfer to DNA Green Group.

Read More
AFE scholarship_Ryan Dickson

March 25, 2015

AFE Educational Grant And Scholarship Application Deadl…

Apply now for American Floral Endowment (AFE) scholarships or educational grants. Applications can be found online. For educational grants for 2015-2016, applications must be submitted no later than June 1. Scholarship applications are due May 1. AFE will award $40,000 in scholarships for 2015.

Read More

March 23, 2015

UF/IFAS Appoints Joseph Albano As Director Of Mid-Flori…

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) has a new directors for its Mid-Florida Research and Education Center (REC) on Apopka, Fla. The role has been filled by Joseph Albano, a research horticulturist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture with more than 25 years of experience.

Read More

March 17, 2015

Pike Nurseries Implements Employee Stock Ownership Plan

Independent garden retailer Pike Nurseries has announced it will become an employee-owned company. Pike Nurseries management has combined with its sister corporation in California, Armstrong Garden Centers, to operate under an established Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP).

Read More
GrowIt! App Wins Gold At Design100 2014 US Mobile & App Design Awards

March 10, 2015

GrowIt! Mobile App Now Available For Android

The mobile app GrowIt! Garden Socially can now be used by gardeners with Android-based smartphones. Now available on the Google Play Market, GrowIt! helps users find plants to fit their lifestyle and connect them with other local gardeners.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Second Annual GreenhouseConnect Will Bring Growers and …

Following a successful inaugural event in Tampa last fall, Greenhouse Grower has announced the dates of its second annual GreenhouseConnect: October 26-29, 2015. Representatives of an expected two dozen leading greenhouse operations from across the U.S. will join senior-level suppliers at Rancho Bernardo Inn in San Diego for several days of one-on-one strategic meetings, a growers-only roundtable, informational sessions and a variety of networking events.

Read More

March 4, 2015

Maryland Green Industry Associations Unite

The Maryland Nursery and Landscape Association recently announced that it is expanding its reach to include the greenhouse industry, meaning it has become The Maryland Nursery, Landscape and Greenhouse Association (MNLGA). The change comes as a result of the planned dissolution of the former Maryland Greenhouse Growers Association and the invitation for those members to join the existing and renamed association.

Read More
IPPS Sharing Plant Production Knowledge Globally Logo

February 25, 2015

International Plant Propagators Western Region Sets Ann…

The annual meet for the International Plant Propagators' Society (IPPS) Western Region has been set for this September. It will take place September 23 to 26 in Modesto, Calif., and will include learning sessions, tours to local nurseries, a research poster display and poster presentations, various networking opportunities and an awards banquet to close the event.

Read More
myers industries Lawn and Garden Logo

February 24, 2015

Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn And Garden Business Sold, N…

The management of Myers Lawn and Garden Group, along with Wingate Partners V, L.P. have recently acquired the Myers Industries, Inc. Lawn and Garden business. The new company is named The HC Companies, and will continue as a North American leading provider of horticulture containers supplying the greenhouse, nursery and retail markets.

Read More
american-hort-logo

February 17, 2015

AmericanHort Announces New Board Members

AmericanHort recently announced the election of new officers and members to the board of directors. Each will assume their positions on the board during Cultivate’15, July 11 to 14 in Columbus, Ohio.

Read More
All American Selections

February 17, 2015

All-America Selections Elects New Officers, Names New J…

While meeting during the Flower and Vegetable Seed Conference in Tampa, Fla., hosted by the American Seed Trade Association, All-America Selections elected new officers for a two-year term. Read on to learn about the new officers, as well as all of the new judges that were added in 2014.

Read More
Greenhouse Grower.com on your desktop, on your phone, on your tablet

February 11, 2015

GreenhouseGrower.com Relaunches With Responsive Design …

Greenhouse Grower magazine, the nation’s leader in profits, production and education for greenhouse growers, announces the launch of its completely redesigned website, GreenhouseGrower.com. The new design is the product of direct user feedback and GreenhouseGrower.com analytics, and includes responsive design for ease of mobile use.

Read More
Andy Higgins

February 3, 2015

MasterTag Names Andy Higgins As Its New President

Former CEO and president of Ecke Ranch, Andy Higgins, joins MasterTag as its new president. He brings more than two decades of industry experience to the position.

Read More