Dutchman Ferdi van Elswijk has fond memories of the summer of 1987, when he was 11 years old and working part-time in his uncle’s 1.9-hectare commercial greenhouse, filling dispensers with sugar water to feed bumblebees who were helping to pollinate tomato plants.
Van Elswijk’s family is part of a long greenhouse tradition in Holland that stretches back to 1599 in the town of Leiden, where the first practical glass greenhouse was built. Over the last 400 years Holland has been at the forefront of hothouse innovation. In the 1980s, farmers installed indoor bumblebee hives to increase pollination and, like young van Elswijk, fed the bees sugar water to keep them happy.
Today, van Elswijk and his fellow farmers have upgraded from bumblebees to high-tech gas engines, predictive software and analytics tools that help save his company, Prominent Growers Association, millions of dollars. “The greenhouse business has been in my blood since I was very young,” van Elswijk says. “I’m very passionate about this because it’s one of the driving factors for humanity — to have healthy food available for the masses.”
At Prominent Growers Association, tomatoes are big business. The company cultivates 750 acres of them in huge greenhouses in 40 locations across Holland, growing one out of every four tomatoes produced in the country. The greenhouses are so large that they are, on average, the size of five city blocks. They are also high-tech.
Prominent Growers Association’s massive greenhouses produce one in every four tomatoes sold in Holland. They are now connected to the Industrial Internet. Image credit: Prominent Growers Association
Over the past year, Prominent has added a new tool to its daily operations to make growing even more efficient — a suite of GE software called myPlant Asset Performance Management (APM). Prominent’s heat and power gas engines — and about 1,000 similar machines deployed in commercial greenhouses globally — are monitored around the clock at GE’s Greenhouse Center of Excellence — yes, there is such a thing — in the Netherlands. There, GE engineers use the solution to collect data from the engines, calculate each plant’s operational state and foretell potential problems before they affect the crop.
A crucial part of that system is predicting when machines should undergo maintenance to avoid unplanned downtime. An engine outage at a greenhouse might not sound catastrophic, but van Elswijk says that each of Prominent’s 3-megawatt gas engines helps more than $3 million worth of tomatoes ripen on the vine at just the right time. If one of those machines has a prolonged unplanned outage, it can cost the company millions of dollars. “Thanks to analytics, we don’t wait for the engine to fail — we act before it fails,” van Elswijk says.
The Distributed Power APM solution was designed specifically for GE’s Jenbacher combined-heat-and-power gas engines, which since 2003 have provided Prominent’s greenhouses with heat and electricity. That includes powering lights during the darker months (in Holland that means from October to May) to help with winter growing. Today, the company’s 53 Jenbacher machines generate more than 150 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1.5 percent of all Dutch households. The company sells excess power back into the grid, boosting operating income and reducing the overall energy cost.
Prominent can also capture excess heat generated by the Jenbacher gas engines in the summertime, storing it in wells below ground level and then pumping it up in the winter months to heat the greenhouses.
True to the Dutch tradition of greenhouse innovation, GE has also found an additional use for the engines. The company attached heat exchangers and catalytic converters to the machines to take the CO2 coming from the exhaust gas and use it to fertilize the tomatoes. The system purifies the exhaust gas, cools it to 45 degrees Celsius and feeds it back into the greenhouse to double the amount of CO2 in the air, boosting crop efficiency by as much as 140 percent while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
Van Elswijk is now taking the knowledge his company has gained and sharing it abroad through the Prominent Greenhouse Academy. He recently set up a joint venture in China, where Prominent provides expertise to help Chinese growers build high-tech cherry tomato greenhouses on the tropical island of Hainan.
“We want to use our knowledge and expertise to provide the best-tasting and healthiest tomatoes in the world,” van Elswijk says. Digital innovation is helping.
For more information:
Top 5 - yesterday
- How growers boost crop yields with greenhouse film EVO AC®
- Thanks to air-conditioned greenhouses, Emirati producers can grow tomatoes during 45 °C summer
- Rebranded Stolze Mexico expands into North American market as GROWA
- Increasing the oxygen levels in irrigation water for a healthier growth
- Angela Storm joins Dramm as Western Technical Representative
Top 5 - last week
Top 5 - last month
- "We harvest 40,000 heads of lettuce per day"
- Tomato plants in winter conditions: Propagation tips and tricks
- How a New Zealand grower has built and is expanding a successful multi-fruit orchard
- Japanese Berry Pop fresh strawberry seeds now available for global markets
- Kuwait: Aeroponic greenhouse to continue country's effort to cut down import
Cogen management at Prominent:
Tomato growers produce enough energy for 1.5% of Dutch households
Receive the daily newsletter in your email for free | Click here
Other news in this sector:
- 2023-03-20 How growers boost crop yields with greenhouse film EVO AC®
- 2023-03-20 Rebranded Stolze Mexico expands into North American market as GROWA
- 2023-03-17 "The system accurately and consistently places interlocking trays on a pallet"
- 2023-03-17 “Any new greenhouse project should be properly designed in terms of financial profitability”
- 2023-03-17 Wicketed bagger is the solution for smaller produce
- 2023-03-17 New DLG platform for food production of the future
- 2023-03-17 Translating the sound of bees to pollinate indoor farms
- 2023-03-17 "Automatic nutrient measurement is ready to be put into practice"
- 2023-03-16 Plantonomy ready for application in pepper cultivation
- 2023-03-15 Benchmarking plant behaviour to increase yields
- 2023-03-15 Combining aquaponics and hydroponics in a 2 hectare Bahrain facility
- 2023-03-14 Trial and error in Dutch greenhouse: Can autonomous systems work well together?
- 2023-03-14 Crop receives its own organic substances back via recirculation of drain water
- 2023-03-13 Saving space with 'telescoping' gutter systems that grow with the plant
- 2023-03-13 $10 million USDA grant to build aquaponic system on Purdue campus
- 2023-03-10 "We're dedicated to the advancement of climate-smart indoor growing practices and policies"
- 2023-03-10 Vertically urban and Microsoft plan growth of AI partnership
- 2023-03-09 Improving shelf-life fruit quality in blueberry
- 2023-03-09 Finding the right balance in pepper crops
- 2023-03-09 “Our robot has higher level of autonomy in greenhouses than a Tesla”