The problem of decreasing carbon-dioxide emissions without crippling economic growth has confounded some of the world’s top thinkers. Recently, however, a tomato grower in the United Kingdom stumbled upon a strikingly straightforward solution: Use greenhouse eases-in greenhouses.
Vegetable grower John Baarda Ltd., in partnership with chemical company Terra Nitrogen, has built a greenhouse facility near Billingham, England, that uses industrial CO2 waste as a crop enhancer. The site is the largest greenhouse complex in the United Kingdom, with some 23 acres fully planted with tomatoes. Once operating at optimal capacity, the complex is expected to divert 12,500 tons of carbon dioxide from the Terra Nitrogen plant-carbon that otherwise would have been released into the air. Waste steam will also be sequestered and diverted to the greenhouse site to power heat lamps.
The Baarda greenhouse will eventually host a remarkable 300,000 tomato plants, allowing for year-round cropping and reducing the need to import tomatoes from Spain during the winter months (also a carbon intensive activity).
“This is an exciting opportunity for Billingham, and Terra Nitrogen is very pleased to be playing an important part in the project. It is an example of how local companies can cooperate to the benefit of the area,” says David Hopkins of Terra Nitrogen.
The strategic partnership also provides a model for how industries can lead in the battle against global warming through carbon sequestration technologies. Worldwide, factories and other stationary sources emit approximately 7 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year, according to Harvard University scientist Kurt Z. House. The United States ranks number one in the world in carbondioxide emissions, with roughly 1.4 billion metric tons of CO2 released annually, or 5,370 metric tons per person. But legislative efforts to curb CO2 have met with resistance. Full implementation of the Kyoto protocol, an international treaty aimed at reducing (particularly) CO2 emissions, would cost the U.S. roughly 0.5% to 2.4% of its GDP annually by 2010. Given those numbers, and our reliance on carbon-generating technologies, it’s easy to see why decreasing CO2 output without going broke has become one of the most significant technical problems of the twenty-first century. But as the Billingham greenhouse demonstrates, even the greatest challenges carry the seeds of opportunity.
Source: Terra Nitrogen, Florence House, Radcliffe Crescent Thornaby, Stockton-on-Tees TS17 6BS, United Kingdom. Web site http://www.terranitrogen.co.uk.
Originally published in THE FUTURIST November-December 2006.