Get off the gas

Greenhouse horticulture in search of alternatives to natural gas
Food & Pharma
4 November 2019

Glastuinbouw Nederland wants to reduce the use of fossil fuels by greenhouse horticulture companies, so that the sector can achieve its CO2 objectives. But before that, there’s still a major problem to be solved, because moving away from fossil fuels risks creating a shortage of CO2 in the sector. It couldn’t be more ironic...

Glastuinbouw Nederland is a non-profit professional association representing the interests of some 70% of the greenhouse horticultural acreage in the Netherlands. The association is influential in public policy and aims to bring not just the greenhouse horticulture companies together, but to also involve suppliers and the government. An important additional task of Glastuinbouw Nederland is to develop and share knowledge, particularly on the energy transition.

The CO2 dilemma

Dennis Medema, an energy innovation specialist at Glastuinbouw Nederland, explains how the sector is looking to emit less CO2 while continuing to have sufficient CO2 for its own use: “We’ve been working with the government for many years now, and have set the CO2 emission targets for our sector until 2020. In concrete terms, this means that we have to pay if we emit too much CO2.”

Today, the greenhouse horticulture sector accounts for 8% - or approximately 3 billion m³ - of the natural gas consumed each year in the Netherlands. In most cases it is used as fuel for cogeneration (CHP). Such CHP not only produces electricity and the heating for the greenhouses, it also ensures that sufficient CO2 is available to support the plant photosynthesis process. This CO2 is recovered from the flue gases generated by the natural gas combustion.

Energy transition under pressure

“It’s our ambition to stop using natural gas by 2040, as stated in the climate agreement,” Dennis explains. “We want to achieve this by saving energy and switching to other energy sources, such as biomass, geothermal energy and residual heat from industry. At the same time, we must be able to continue to provide CO2 for the photosynthesis process, and so we’re in the process of looking for other CO2 sources. The outcome of this will be crucial for our energy transition process, because if these alternative sources of CO2 prove to be insufficient, we won’t be able to achieve our ambition.”

“We need approximately 2.5 megatonnes of CO2 each year for photosynthesis in greenhouse horticulture. In theory, of course, we could simply filter this out of the open air, but because of the excessive cost, this is not yet a feasible process. Suppliers such as Air Liquide already collectively supply us with about 0.6 megatonnes a year. This is a good thing, but of course it’s still far from sufficient.”

CO2 recovery from waste

“A potentially significant option could come from waste processing companies. These are companies that incinerate the residual waste stream - the part that can’t be recycled. The intention is that we collect the CO2 released during combustion and use it for greenhouse horticulture.”

AVR - a processing company for residual waste - recently started using the first large-scale CO2 capture installation at its site in Duiven (the Netherlands). Here, gaseous CO2 is converted into liquid form, so that it can be transported by Air Liquide to customers in the greenhouse horticulture sector.

“It’s a ground-breaking project - the only one of its kind on this scale - about which we are particularly enthusiastic. The aim is to be able to supply some 60 kilotonnes of CO2 to the greenhouse horticulture sector every year. And hopefully that’s not all, because there are six similar projects in the pipeline. But, for those, we also need the help of the government,” Dennis concludes.

Please contact Arlo Saes for more information.