By Carolyn Cooper
A 19-acre controlled environment agricultural facility planned for Hinton, AB and scheduled to open in 2024 will be the first of its kind in North America to be powered by sustainable deep earth geothermal energy.
The large-scale production facility is being constructed by Freshbay Inc., and will use vertical aeroponic farming technology, greenhouses, and scientific horticulture procedures to grow herbs, strawberries and tropical fruit. During the first year, says Freshbay CEO Vic Reddy, the facility will produce between 12 and 15 million lbs. of strawberries for sale throughout Alberta.
Reddy believes using geothermal energy to manage heating, cooling and humidity control in the facility is an important part of producing food in remote areas. “Geothermal is the missing puzzle piece to controlled environment agriculture,” he says. “Geothermal not only allows us to minimize our energy costs, it allows us to map our energy costs for the next decade and beyond. In comparison to solar and wind, geothermal is far superior, as it is available on demand day or night, year after year. There is a higher upfront cost, however the maintenance costs are pennies on the dollar compared to traditional heating, cooling and electrical costs.”
The cost of food production is also significantly less, says Reddy, noting that “as technology improves and geothermal wells can be dug cheaper, facilities won’t have to be the size of our projected 700,000 sq. ft. of production space. I believe we will be the new model for indoor food production.”
Calgary, AB-based Novus Earth Energy Operations Inc. provides turnkey geothermal wells that can be used for electrical, thermal or a combination of both (CHP), and will oversee the drilling, installation, and maintenance of the Hinton wells. The company uses sub-contractors Vertex Resources for drilling engineering, Full Spectrum Projects for facilities engineering, and Sproule, an engineering company with experience using geothermal to heat greenhouses in the Netherlands.
“Our system is called an Advanced Geothermal System, also known as a closed-loop,” says Jeff Messner, president and co-founder of Novus Earth. “Conventional geothermal is restricted to specific formation characteristics to make it work, which is why you don’t see it in very many places. What we’ve created is an underground radiator that doesn’t require the same characteristics and can be placed anywhere, granted with differing levels of efficiency and economics. “The geothermal system connects to a surface heat exchanger and a pump to send the fluid back down to be re-heated,” he explains. “From the heat exchanger it can move on for several other uses. The geothermal requires very little maintenance. Repair and maintenance is mostly required on the heat exchangers and surface pump. This is technology that is used around the world, but currently there are none in Canada.”
Messner adds that as well as being a 24/7 energy source with zero carbon emissions (apart from some of the building materials such as steel casing and cement), once geothermal is “being used to replace natural gas, the return on investment is three to four years and has an end asset life at 30+ years. Some geothermal wells have been running for over 100 years.” Novus Earth is currently preparing to drill a non-producing observation well in July, followed by the commercial well this fall, while Reddy says the facility is expected to be completed in May 2024, with production beginning during Q2. Additional projects in BC and Surgeon County, AB to grow lettuce, kale and tropical fruit, are also in the works.
“The potential is huge, especially going into the Territories since they have great geothermal resources at shallow depths,” says Messner. “Deep well geothermal is not new. We just haven’t fully taken advantage of what’s beneath our feet in the same way people around the world have been for generations.”