If you were asked to define “repurposing,” you might describe how to turn an old tire into a swing; you might not immediately think of turning a pig barn into a fish pond, and probably would not go on to explain how the water from that fish operation can be used to fertigate a commercial greenhouse. But that is how Timothy Kendrick enthusiastically explains the repurposing the BW GLOBAL Structures team is working on for one their clients in Alberta.
Timothy Kendrick, President & Chief Designer for BW GLOBAL in Abbotsford, BC, will tell you that his company doesn’t just build greenhouses. “We innovate, and we strive to educate ourselves and our clients.” Kendrick acquired the company five years ago, and with its BW Greenhouse division, it’s been his mission to develop a team that understands and cares about efficient, sustainable growing systems. “We want to bring out the best in others, whether they are clients, students, academics, research partners or suppliers. To borrow from Apple, we challenge ourselves and others to ‘Think Different’.”
One of BW GLOBAL’s latest ventures is combining controlled environment agriculture and aquaculture disciplines into commercially viable aquaponics systems. They are currently helping their pig—now tilapia—farmer client expand his operation into a year-round, multi-product, growing operation. For this project, the repurposed barn contains a fish habitat that measures only 100’x75’x7’ yet generates over 10,000 pounds of fish per week and has been since 2009.
“Currently, our client has a rock-solid, biologically stable environment,” says Kendrick. “He uses no antibiotics, and there is absolutely no need for remediation to stabilize pH levels. The biological activity within the system creates so much heat that there is no need for additional heat, even in the middle of winter. This is a great example of allowing Mother Nature to create stability and productivity.” The addition of a commercial greenhouse connected to the existing fish operation will allow for produce to be grown all year round. The greenhouse is be modelled after other similar greenhouses constructed by BW GLOBAL using state-of-the-art coverings and environment controls. With the help of BW GLOBAL’s other partners, such as Nick Savidov and Charlie Schultz from Lethbridge College, Kendrick is confident in this and other commercial aquaponics projects.
BW GLOBAL Systems, which is still in its evolutionary stages as a newarm of BW GLOBAL, will continue to work with clients, scientists and academics to develop commercial greenhouse growing systems that utilize technologies from around the world to radically increase yield rates and drive product quality. “None of the systems we are talking about are incremental in their increases; we are looking to move the needle by orders of magnitude. It just requires a different way of thinking.”
Kendrick explains that BW GLOBAL’s international partnerships further their efforts. “We have an Australian partner that helps design systems and transition commercial produce farmers into the aquaponics operations. We also have partners out of Israel that are years ahead of other suppliers in developing proven, wildly successful, greenhouse coverings that use ultra-high diffusion and spectrum control to produce ideal growing conditions.”
Thomas Baumann, a UFV Agriculture Department Associate Professor and one of BW GLOBAL’s academic collaborators, has used one these high-tech polyethylene coverings from Poly-Ag on his own farm. He was impressed with the results. “Normally, at 26 degrees Celsius in the freestanding greenhouse, the cucumbers and tomatoes would start to drop flowers because of physiological changes that don’t allow for proper pollination, but with this polyethylene from BW GLOBAL, the plants did not drop a single flower even when temperatures reached 34 degrees.” Reducing stress and preventing blossom drop (which increases fruit yield) is just one of the many benefits of this polyethylene material.
Another example of where a client followed guidance from BW GLOBAL was a third-generation flower grower in the Fraser Valley. “These guys are smart, experienced, sophisticated growers who have been practicing their trade for many years. We suggested they use a diffused, spectrum controlling polyethylene rather than just clear, sacrificing a bit of light transmission for light diffusion and conditioning. After only 45 days, they told us that there was a 25% increase in plant robustness. The proof is always in the pudding; plants never lie.”
The same kinds of results were also seen at the greenhouse at the Agriculture Centre of Excellence at the University of the Fraser Valley, where they have trialed cucumber, tomato and pepper plants in the BW FREEFLOW Greenhouse. Kendrick notes, “Pepper plants, for example, abandon their lower leaves, because these bottom leaves usually don’t get enough light as the plants become taller, requiring constant leaf removal. Our Palram SolarSoft polycarbonate on this greenhouse diffuses more of the photosynthetically active radiation (PAR) light; as this radiation hits the large surface of the greenhouse, it is distributed everywhere. Now, the 95% light diffusion ‘sprays’ the plants with light from every angle and the pepper plants did not lose any of their lower leaves. Keeping more of this bio-capacity is key to more vigorous plant activity and greater yields.”
“Sunlight is free,” Kendrick adds, “and with the help of this polycarbonate covering, the plants put less effort into gaining height and more effort into fruit production. That is why the tomato plants had a larger girth and shorter internodal spacing.”
“Whether growing food or plants, the principles are the same and the positive results are being seen in both worlds,” Kendrick explains. “In all corners of the world, greater yields are being observed with the better quality greenhouse coverings. The optimum diffusion and control of light prevents the leaves and fruit from getting stressed and scorched, and the best thing about it is the cost of shading systems, which are not needed, and the input costs of heating are lowered.”
BW GLOBAL has partners all over the world, which allows for real-time sharing of information, best practices and technology. “These relationships help focus the growth of our company and will help put Canada on the map internationally as a place to turn to for controlled environment agriculture expertise and innovative collaboration,” Kendrick remarks.
BW GLOBAL has also recently signed a Global Memorandum of Understanding with a Washington State company, Ambient Water, to be their integrators for controlled environment systems. A stunning example of Ambient Water’s technical capabilities are the systems that are able to collect over 100,000 gallons of water from the air every day for fracking in Texas, where the water table is almost past repair. Rather than trucking in water, they can draw from the moisture nature provides naturally.
BW GLOBAL saw this kind of technology as a quantum leap forward in environmental control for greenhouses. The system cannot only control humidity from 90% RH down to 40% RH but can produce either heat or cooling as a free byproduct of the process. This system will be integrated into BW GLOBAL’s greenhouses in order to achieve a 100% sealed greenhouse, long considered the Holy Grail in the greenhouse world. “The key to this technology is having a greenhouse envelope that is almost completely air tight, which traditional glass greenhouses are not,” Kendrick notes. “We are excited to implement this technology in two of our upcoming projects, because we can increase efficiency and reduce costs for heating, better control pathogen pressures and run significantly higher, sustained CO2 levels which plants thrive on. We are also looking to incorporate this technology on two projects for Saudi Arabia, where water is more precious than gold and temperatures hit above 50 degrees Celsius.”
BW GLOBAL is also working with PCL, a major construction company, to build a BW FREEFLOW Greenhouse at the new correctional institution in Oliver, BC. Inmates will have the opportunity to participate in innovative agriculture programs that contribute to their rehabilitation while growing food to feed the prison population. “These programs give the inmates practical skills for use upon their release,” explains Kendrick. “And alongside some of our others partners like L.I.N.C Society (lincsociety.bc.ca) and Sole Food Street Farms (solefoodfarms.com), which are both based in Greater Vancouver, we can continue to support programs which help rehabilitate, support and develop vulnerable members of our society.”
Kendrick explains how his company is pushing the limits in other ways. “We are working on a hurricane-proof greenhouse design for tropic and subtropical regions. We also have a brand new, seven-layer polycarbonate technology designed specifically for the harshest cold weather climates on the planet. Finally, we have designed and are currently building one of the tallest commercial production greenhouses in the world for a project in Quebec. It is four and a half stories to the peak to allow for its vertical growing systems. It’s a monster!”
And the innovation does not stop there. “We are waiting for spring to put a greenhouse on the top of an industrial laundry in Fort McMurray, Alberta. This project was driven by the desire of the owner to recover the waste heat and CO2 emitted from his operations. It is forward thinking like this that we love to work with. We are working with another progressively minded entrepreneur in Halifax, Nova Scotia, to design and install a greenhouse on the top of a new hockey arena complex to make productive use of the roof area while recovering the waste heat from its operations. This greenhouse not only capitalizes on energy that was being wasted, but it also expands this entrepreneur’s business model and allows him to diversify his revenue streams—something all business people want to do.”
In the research realm, BW GLOBAL is collaborating closely with Dr. Andrew Riseman from the University of British Columbia on developing a self-contained aquaponics growing system that can be transported in two shipping containers anywhere in the world. This mini-ecosystem has been designed for intensive research into the interspecies relationships and dependencies in a multi-trophic system. “We are looking to explore more deeply the different variables in these systems. Multiples of this system can be run in parallel with variables such as different fish and plant species and densities, food input, and the like in order to remove any variances in climatic data. This provides better research data for the system running different scenarios,” Kendrick explains. “The circle of life is fully represented in this system; the liquid fish waste is used for the plants; the plant waste is composted and fed to black soldier fly larvae; the larvae are then in turn fed to the fish, and the cycle is repeated.”
In addition to academic research, remote communities or mining sites can utilize this system to provide localized food production and a change from the day-to-day activities for their employees who are often working in isolated locations, far from fresh, varied food sources. “Retention of employees is a huge issue with these companies, so a system like this can improve their employees quality of life and work experience tremendously.”
BW GLOBAL is also collaborating with another innovative, technology company, TIGI Solar. They have designed industrial-sized, solar hot water heaters for energy intensive industries such as textile factories. The insulated panel on their solar collector is perfect in Canadian climes. Kendrick says, “We saw this technology and immediately recognized its value in controlled environment growing. Energy costs are a huge line item on any grower’s financial statements. With efficient, cost-effective solutions like TIGI’s solar collectors we are able to push farther north and into colder areas, where fuel sources are either limited or expensive.
The next extreme environment Kendrick hopes to expand into is out of this world—literally. “Space and interplanetary travel require unique food supply systems—these systems have very complex issues to deal with. When it comes time for Richard Branson of Virgin Galatic to build a hotel in space or Elon Musk of SpaceX to push us further into exploration, we believe we may have something of value to contribute to their efforts,” Kendrick says with a smile. Kendrick concludes, “Everyone, everywhere, needs food every day. This is why we see what we do as a mission: to help address the most basic, yet fundamental, human needs. The world must come to terms with how food and water are managed in a very big hurry, especially in rapidly changing and challenging physical and geo-political climates.”
“We are using, to the best of our abilities, what Mother Nature gives to us for free, whether it is sunlight or the intricate, supportive relationships of different systems in nature. Our focus is always to develop practical, simple, robust systems that can sustain commercially viable operations. With the cooperation of committed partners, which for us includes clients and suppliers, as well as creative scientists, BW GLOBAL is able to leverage the sun, the water and the symbiotic relationships found in nature to coordinate a movement forward—a movement which will allow us to develop more sustainable food options and improve the way we live our lives.”