Japanese rebuilding horticulture after tsunami

Who doesn’t remember the horrible pictures and videos of the earthquakes and the follow up tsunami in Tohoku Japan in March 2011? The Tohoku earthquake, as the Japanese call it and tsunami that followed left around 16,000 people dead and many more displaced without housing or job-site to go to. The Japanese started immediately making plans for rebuilding the region there is still a lot to do, but they are going strong.


Clean up teams are still working in the area collecting rubbish and garbage. The total area that has to be cleaned up is around 23,600 Ha which is a little less than 20% of total area of the Netherlands. This is going in quite an efficient way. It’s not only the visible things that needed to be cleaned up also the soil is quite contaminated with the salty water from the sea. Just a friendly reminder the EC level of sea water is around 54. It’s not possible to grow rice or strawberries on these soils before they are cleaned up.

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As there is quite some strawberry production in Yamamoto-cho in Miyagi, the Japanese government decided to build a new research station called High-tech Professional Research Facility. Advanced researches for tomato and strawberry are taking place in this modern greenhouse of 7,200 m2. Several national and public research institutes, universities and private companies form a consortium to conduct researches together. Research goals by 2017 are to improve production and quality of the products, reduce production costs and improve profit of farm management. The first phase of the greenhouse construction was done by one of the Japanese leading greenhouse builders Ishiguro Nozai who not only built the greenhouse but also supplied the irrigation, cooling and heating systems. The computer controls for this project were delivered by Hoogendoorn which installed an iSii computer for complete control of the greenhouse.

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The Japanese users are very happy with the system as it is easy to operate and Ishiguro has developed some very handy visualizations so a good understanding of all the processes going on in the greenhouse is easily achieved.


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The projected was inaugurated by the Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, see picture.

Next photos give you an impression of the greenhouse constructed by Ishiguro

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At the moment the construction for the second phase has started.

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Horticulture one liners

Tomato production per m2

Over the last 50 years, the greenhouse industry has grown from small family based operation to large enterprises, from low-tech glasshouse with little environmental control to high-tech modern greenhouse with complex climate control systems, from soil to soiless production, and from short production cycle to year-round production of high quality produce.

Some important facts to know:

  1. Light is the most important growth factor in plants production 1% more light in a greenhouse gives 1% more production.
  2. Adding CO2 to your greenhouse production will increase your tomato production by 30% to 40%.
  3. By the year 2020 The Netherlands will have an energy neutral greenhouse production
  4. Labor and shipping costs in North America can be at least five times more costly than heating so mechanize where possible.

The most productive tomato farm in the world at this moment produces 104 Kg tomatoes per m2. Numbers tell the tale: Without adequate water tomato yields around Leamington Ontario in Canada run about 75.000 – 86.000 kg tomatoes per hectare. If the growers has a good irrigation system it will achieve almost double, 124.000 to 148.000 kg tomatoes per hectare. If these tomato plants are put in Greenhouses, you can achieve a 500.000 in an average middle tech greenhouse up till over 1.000.0000 kilos per hectare in a high tech greenhouse such as Village Farms

The computer age has been with us for 30-plus years and many operations still don’t take advantage of its potential. Computers are tools that can enhance steps and procedures in our business when we know what the outcomes are. The can definitely solve problems. By using the computer to take care of routine tasks of record keeping, planning and retrieving information, we will have more time to solve problems and improve our operations.

Gates: Greenhouse Advanced Technology Expert System

Science behind the Method
Village Farms is a leader in agricultural research and foremost in North America for developing improvements in greenhouse production technology. Village Farms  applied research division continues to invest tremendous resources in the areas of Climate Engineering, Plant Biology & Pathology, Entomology, and Ecology. For almost twenty years, Village Farms has been at the forefront of technological greenhouse innovation by developing creative solutions in challenging climatic environments, not to mention, has achieved and documented the world record for highest yield. villagefarms marfa

Village Farms scientists are engaged in partnerships with numerous academic and applied research institutes throughout the world to test and implement new technology in their greenhouse production facilities.  Their state of the art greenhouse system is, in continued development, employing an integrated approach of theoretical and applied research methods. The end result is an efficient system from seed to fork built on proprietary intellectual property with capabilities like no other in the world.

Village Farms’ “crown glory” in applied research is their Greenhouse Advanced Technology Expert System (GATES). GATES system was created to perfect vegetable and fruit greenhouse production in high-sun and low-humidity areas. Adjacent to the facilities in Marfa, Texas this revolutionary greenhouse is a combination of unique and valuable intellectual property. The entire project is a multi-million dollar investment developed using new concepts in greenhouse design technology, climate control, and crop management. Utilizing new combinations of hardware, software, sensors, and control systems, GATES technology has defined industry standards in advanced food safety principles, production levels, and environmental stewardship values for greenhouse production.

Gates Village Farms


  • 365 day production of high quality fruit providing 100% fulfillment of customer requirements.
  • contained environment excludes all outside pests while inside pests are controlled with IPM (Integrated Pest Management), making GATES production 100% insecticide free.
  • production levels are 60% higher than average greenhouse production.
  • yield 20-30 times more product per acre than conventional field production
  • technology achieves lowest price per pound in the industry today.
  • uses 100% of water with no waste and recycles 100% of irrigation drainage to conserve water and fertilizer.
  • is designed to use waste heat to warm the greenhouses.
  • is designed to recover CO² from boiler and power plant exhaust to utilize plant for increasing crop growth.
  • uses 3 types of evaporation to cool and humidify the greenhouse.
  • water efficient growing system for tomatoes requires 1/7th of water usage, compared to field grown tomatoes, further translating into an 86% savings in water usage.
  • has the most sophisticated plant monitoring available, including cameras, plant temperatures, water uptake, and growth rates. These measurements are all minute by minute in real time.
  • uses the plant measurements and software models to fine tune the greenhouse conditions
  • technology can be transferred to high density population centers, therefore, reducing ‘food miles’ and thus, the overall carbon footprint.
  • can harvest solar power from excess sun radiation and convert to electricity.
  • OCAP Organic Carbon dioxide for Assimilation of Plants

    CO2 in horticultural greenhouses

    Plants grow under the influence of light and use water and CO2 as raw materials for their photosynthesis. In the competitive horticultural market, the use of CO2 in a greenhouse is considered to be a major instrument in increasing production. In the Netherlands the CO2 requirement is primarily met by using CO2 in the form of flue gasses from the heating system (boiler). Natural gas is therefore burnt on a large-scale in the Netherlands in horticultural greenhouses during the summer. This technique, however, provides limited quality with respect to CO2, because it`s limited in capacity and is not always environmentally friendly. Horticulturists can use some of the heat that is released but in many cases the heat is lost (summer heating).ocap002

    Minimum costs and high quality CO2 from OCAP

    Faster growth of your greenhouse crop
    Higher yield per square meter
    Better planning of crop production
    Better crop quality
    Insured against damage of none pure CO2 which is contaminated with etheen or NOx.

    The mission of OCAP

    OCAP,is a joint venture between gas supplier Linde Gas Benelux and VolkerWessels . OCAP supplies pure CO2 to greenhouse companies. This CO2 is produced during the production of hydrogen at Shell in the Botlek and would otherwise be expelled into the atmosphere. OCAP supplies this CO2 via an existing pipeline and a new distribution network. This enables horticulturists to save about 95 million cubic metres of natural gas per year. And it also reduces CO2 emissions by about 170,000 tons per year. It is therefore a unique form of cooperation. For both the environment and greenhouse horticulture.

    The idea of supplying the CO2 that was emitted during the production of hydrogen to glasshouse horticulturists was conceived in 1994. In 2002, Syens Energy worked out this initiative of linking demand with supply and economics with the environment. Their mission was: ‘to meet the requirement for CO2 in greenhouse horticulture in an environmentally-friendly way through the distribution and delivery of the pure CO2 which is released from the refinery’.

    VolkerWessels and Linde Gas Benelux have undertaken this initiative which is unique in the world. They are supplying the CO2 which is released during the production of hydrogen to greenhouse horticulturists. The CO2 supply operation has been placed with a joint company called OCAP (Organic Carbondioxide for Assimilation of Plants).

    The OCAP solutions

    The horticulturist has high-quality CO2 made available to him in large quantities for the maintenance of the best possible concentration of CO2 in the greenhouse. The increase in production achieved by this increases the competitive position of the horticulturist. At the same time the burden on the environment (the natural gas consumption) is lessened per unit. This saves about 95 million m3 of natural gas on an annual basis.

    The CO2 which is emitted by the Shell refinery is put to good use and this lowers CO2 emissions. There is a total reduction of CO2 emission by 170,000 tons per year. These reductions can make a considerable contribution to the targets in the field of CO2 emission reduction which were set in the Kyoto protocol.

    CO2 in the Botlek

    At the Shell refinery in the Botlek area, (almost) pure CO2 is expelled into the atmosphere on a large scale. The CO2 is released during the production of hydrogen, a crucial process in the refinery. Many kilotons of CO2 are emitted each year. This CO2 can be used directly in greenhouse horticulture.

    Delivery area

    The company delivers around 160,000 kg of CO2 per hour to 500 horticultural companies which is around 1300 hectares of greenhouses between Rotterdam and The Hague.


    The CO2 that is supplied to the horticulturists is purchased from Shell. The CO2 gas is pressurized using a compressor. OCAP discovered an existing old pipeline that was used to transport oil between Rotterdam and Amsterdam, but was out of service for 25 years. The use an existing 85 km transport pipeline was vital for the project to keep the cost down and make it faster profitable. The old pipeline runs alongside a number of major greenhouse horticultural areas and OCAP still had to build a distribution grid of smaller pipes running to the individual greenhouses.

    Distribution and delivery

    The delivery areas are connected to the existing transport pipeline. To do this OCAP has laid an extensive new pipeline network which connects each customer to the CO2 network.

    Facts and figures

    Horticulture in the Netherlands
    Total area: 10,000 hectares.
    Total turnover: € 8.5 billion export value.

    Number of hectares that qualify for CO2 from OCAP: approx. 5,000 hectares.

    The distribution network
    NPM pipeline (NPM): 85 kilometres.
    Main pipeline (steel): 12 kilometres.
    Distribution pipeline (HDPE): 130 kilometres.
    Delivery stations situated at the horticulturists: 500.

    The delivery
    Total connected service area: approx. 1,300 hectares.
    Total supply capacity: approx. 160 tons per hour.
    Total delivery: approx. 300,000 tons per year.

    Environmental benefit
    95 million m3 natural gas saving on a yearly basis untill 2012. From January 2012 115 million m3 of natural gas is saved.

    170,000 tons CO2 emission reduction until 2011, 205,00 tons CO2 emission reduction since January 2012 with the second source becoming operational

    Linde Gas Benelux and VolkerWessels investment
    100 million euros first phase 35 million 2nd phase

    Project evaluation

    The project is very successful, when started in 2004 it was estimated that in 2008 the maximum production capacity of 160 ton CO2 per hour would have been achieved. Although this was very ambitious at that time OCAP achieved in February 2007 the maximum capacity already. Biggest problems for OCAP and the growers is constant supply as there are drops in supply or Shell is not producing enough CO2 than growers in are having problem with feeding enough CO2 to there plants. As there is still more demand from the growers in the Netherlands OCAP is now looking for alternative resources to produce CO2.

    CO2 acts as a “sort of fertilizer” to speed up vegetable growth

    Greenhouse vegetables grows about 25% faster when the concentration of CO2 is doubled. In greenhouse farming the CO2 for CO2 fertilisation is increasingly often delivered by several sources, such as burner/boiler, CHP, OCAP and pure CO2.

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    New investments by OCAP in 2012

    On 1st of January 2012 OCAP started permanently using their installation at the second CO2 source which is located at bio-ethanol producer Abengoa. The 500 greenhouse growers which are buying their CO2 from OCAP will have a more reliable supply, during maintenance or production problems one CO2 source can most of the time supply sufficient to cope with demand. Also OCAP can now extend their market by starting to supply growers in the Zuidplaspolder and Eneco.

    OCAP has Invested 35 million Euro in the second supply source and in extending their distribution network. The Dutch government has subsidized 5 million Euro from their sustainability budget with the goal achieving the Kyoto protocol.

    WKK or CHP stops innovation in Horticulture Holland

    In the Netherlands in the last years greenhouses are heated and powered by WKK (warmte kracht koppeling) in English CHP which means Combined Heat and Power also known as co-generation. By installing a CHP system designed to meet the thermal and electrical base loads of a greenhouse, CHP greatly increases the greenhouse operational efficiency and decrease energy costs. How does a CHP work in a greenhouse, a plant in a greenhouse in the northern  hemisphere  need most of the time heat, light and CO2 to grow optimal.  A CHP is providing this by burning natural gas and giving electricity, heat and CO2 in return.

    CHP Cogeration

    If you look at today’s power plants which burns natural gas still 45% is turned into heat and not into electricity this is a waste of energy because most of the time the heat is unused and therefore dumped. A greenhouse grower is burning natural gas to make electricity, one part of the electricity he is using for his grow light another part he is using to heat his greenhouse with. The CO2 which the grower is producing he feeds to his plants so they are more productive. A greenhouse has an efficiency of 90% compared to a gas powered electricity plant of around 45%

    In Holland the co-generation became very popular of the current 10,000 hectare of greenhouses 6,000 hectare is using the thermal and electricity power of an CHP. Those greenhouses are producing now around 2000 Mwe and in 2011 this will be around 3000 Mwe. Currently around 20% of the total electricity demand in the Netherlands is produced by greenhouse growers and this will further grow in the coming years.


    The dutch government and some NGOs like LTO Glaskracht and the  Association Nature and Environment have the ambition for 2020, to have a climate neutral Dutch Greenhouse sector which is independent on high energy prices.

    Down site to the success of the CHP in the Dutch horticultural sector is that it slows down  innovation which is so badly further needed. The CHP is still using environmental unfriendly fossil fuel and it’s giving the greenhouses grower an income for producing electricity which inflates the price of the horticultural product they are growing such as tomato, chrysanthemum, bell peppers or cucumbers (decrease cost price). So CHP is an economical solution to keep on competing with countries which have a better climate to grow vegetables or flowers.

    At this moment of the 10.000 hectares of greenhouses, 6.000 is heated with a CHP installation, so what to do with the other 4.000 hectares. Geothermal heating? At this moment it’s very popular but according to calculations of the Product Board of Horticulture Geothermal heating will only be able to heat 1.000 hectares in Holland. Another option is to burn bio fuels in stead of natural gas. Or maybe we have shouldn’t think of conventional greenhouses but look at new greenhouse concepts? We still have some time before it’s 2020.

    Please comment any Greenhouse concepts or Energy solutions you think are worth investigating.