"The vegetable shortage in the UK could be a thing of the past – if the industry would support the latest innovation that allows waste heat sources, instead of gas, to heat greenhouses."
According to Faye Tomson of District Eating, a company focused on seeking ways to generate the energy required to produce food in the UK, there are a number of industries that are ignoring the benefits of current thinking.
"There is a huge amount of waste from manufacturing processes, wastewater treatment, data centers, power stations, and anaerobic digestion sites, to name just a few," she said.
District Eating develops horticulture projects that utilize waste heat and CO2 for growing, which can create a cost-effective solution to the current heating regimes employed by most UK growers. The typical solution is gas combined heat and power (CHP), which provides the vital ingredients for growing greenhouse crops in cold climates like ours in the UK; heat, power, and CO2. If heat and CO2 can be sourced from waste, the costs of servicing greenhouses decrease, which enables our growers to keep their costs down and compete with imports.
Faye believes we could be self-sufficient in terms of growing vegetables in the UK if new greenhouses are built next to power stations, anaerobic digesters, and factories that produce the all-important waste heat and CO2.
Britain has been unable to grow enough food because our horticulture systems were built at a time of cheap fossil fuels and are now faced with a gas addiction problem. There has been a huge increase in gas prices – meaning many greenhouses are at the mercy of the gas price – and there are labor shortages, which, combined with an inflexible supermarket pricing system, means our growers have been priced out of the market this winter. They have been unable to pass their increased costs on to the consumer, and so many are facing bankruptcy this year.
"The benefits of using the District Eating systems are multi-fold," Faye added.
"Instead of producing expensive food that is subject to shortages, the industry can develop systems that provide a new income from the sale of waste products, reduce carbon emissions and provide a stable heat supply that is less affected by global energy costs."
Being able to supply the UK food industry with much-needed facilities for becoming sustainable can only be a win-win, as many current clients testify.
"Apart from being great for environmental and social responsibility, being involved with this move towards making the UK self-sufficient in terms of providing food for its population, it is a great marketing and business accolade," Faye added.
"Soon, all food and drink producers will have to report on their scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions-the emissions arising from their production. The carbon savings that could arise from using waste heat and CO2 in greenhouses are immense and will result in low carbon local produce, which is a real selling point for the increasing number of ethical shoppers."
District Eating offers a consultancy service that can make this happen – helping businesses, commercial growers, and community projects come together on both sides of the process to grow goods in a low-carbon environment while avoiding the fluctuations of gas prices. The company provides serviced sites for commercial growing operations, identifying those with waste heat, affordable power, and CO2.
"There are so many benefits of our business model. Apart from the above, our clients contribute to new job creation, improved UK diets, and a food distribution model that is low-carbon and reliable. So we can have as many tomatoes as we like, whenever we want them, without these preventable shortages."