Dutch Berries: maybe just a little more?

The Netherlands’ biggest greenhouse strawberry producer chooses sustainable CO2
Food & Pharma
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2 March 2020

Dutch Berries is part of the Gijbert Kreling group, which has five cultivation sites with a total of about 50 hectares of greenhouses. Until recently the group grew only Elsanta strawberries but, from 2020, the Malling Centenary variety is being introduced too. The group also cultivates kalanchoes and chrysanthemums.

Dutch Berries stands out because of its high production volume, which means a lower cost per kilo. You can see how this approach works in practice at the Zuilichem site. Here, two strawberry greenhouses - the largest in the Netherlands - each cover 10 hectares. Inside are 200 km of gutters, 400 km of heating pipes and 2.2 million strawberry plants. The cost of all this: more than EUR 40 million. Dutch Berries aims to harvest 1,800 tons of strawberries in the spring and 900 tons in the autumn.

That is quite a lot, but market demand is even stronger than that, and so Dutch Berries has already started building an additional 4-hectare greenhouse. A further 12 ha of greenhouses could be added later at the same location.

Energy management

The greenhouses in Zuilichem are heated using a huge natural gas boiler with a capacity of 19,000 kW linked to a 5.5 million litre hot water reservoir. “This gives us the opportunity to heat during the day and immediately use the CO2 this releases for the strawberries,” explains Boudewijn van der Wal, Finance Director for the Gijbert Kreling group. “During the colder months, we want to be able to add heat at night, but without the CO2, and so then we use the heat from the hot water reservoir.”

“In the summer months, things are a little more complex because we usually don’t have to use the boiler at all. But that means that no CO2 is produced, and so we have to get it from somewhere else. If we didn’t, our production capacity would be about 30% lower, which would be significant.”

Alternative CO2 sources

“The CO2 issue would also arise if we were to switch to non-fossil energy sources to heat our greenhouses. Our industry needs to get rid of gas completely in the long term, but this is only possible if enough CO2 is available from alternative sources. And it has to remain affordable, of course.”

“In theory, we could switch to geothermal energy, but the ground in Zuilichem is not suitable for that. Another option is electric heating, but the power needed for this is way above the maximum capacity of the grid here in this area. And you can’t change things just like that, of course. All in all, I think we’re stuck with the natural gas boiler and the cogeneration system for the time being.”

Air Liquide supplies CO2 from incinerated household waste to Dutch Berries and other horticultural companies.  The CO2 is created as a by-product and collected using a special installation. The gas is then purified and liquefied before being transported in tankers to the horticulturists.

Why Air Liquide?

“We learned about Air Liquide from a fellow horticulturist who told us about his positive experiences with the company. We now have an Air Liquide tank for liquid CO2 at the three sites where we grow strawberries. These tanks have systems that allow the content to be read remotely so that we can keep a close eye on stock levels.”

“Air Liquide supplied the hardware to convert the liquid CO2 to gas and transport it to the injection points. We’re particularly pleased that the people at Air Liquide took our wishes into account as far as possible when they designed and fitted the technical installations. They also provide good technical support. For example, we recently had a discussion with them about how many grams of CO2 we want per square metre per hour in the greenhouses. Of course, there are theoretical models for this, but it’s wise to fine-tune from experience.

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