KPU, SFU Researchers Receive Grant to Help with “Clean Food” Project

More than $725,000 will go towards developing ways of bringing clean food and water to areas challenged by climate change
Stephanie Davies, Contributor

Deborah Henderson

KPU and SFU researchers have received a three-year grant of more than $725,000 from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Council of Canada College University Idea to Innovation. This grant will advance their project, “From Waste to Clean Food”.

“There’ll be quite intensive work going on in the next three years,” says Deborah Henderson, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Horticulture at KPU, who’s leading the university’s contributions on the project.

Among Henderson’s team are two students who’ve been hired for their skill and dedication to the subject. In regards to the future of green technology, Henderson believes that KPU students will have a variety of new and interesting jobs available to them.

“When we built our research greenhouse it was geothermal, and it was always meant to host projects that would improve energy efficiency in greenhouses,” says Henderson. “[Greenhouses are] very good for production but they use a lot of energy, so while we don’t have that expertise here to do that kind of work, I thought it was a really good idea to make it available and look for partners to do that kind of work.”

KPU’s greenhouse has hosted several other research projects, including one from UBC. When Henderson met with SFU mechatronic systems engineering professor Majid Bahrami, their research partnership began.

“When we met Majid [Bahrami], he was interested in the fact that we have a greenhouse that is quite good for research purposes,” says Henderson. “[We’ve] brought a lot of expertise and a facility that they don’t have at Simon Fraser. It’s a nice combination of expertise—neither of us have all of it, but together, we have quite a lot to offer.”

The SFU lab provides technology in energy efficient use, reclaiming waste energy and putting it back into energy systems. These technologies will be further developed over the course of the project. The KPU researchers are assisting with the development of these technologies, but they won’t be the engineers behind them.

“The piece that we’re going to be doing is a bit of a byproduct,” Henderson explains. “And if it creates a greenhouse environment that is more cost-effective, it means you can produce more things in it. You can consider other crops.”

She continues, “Right now, we grow a limited number of vegetables in greenhouses because they tolerate the conditions and the cross-benefit analysis just works. We don’t have to cool the greenhouses for those vegetables, but we do have to heat them. We can actually have more control over the climate in the greenhouse and it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg. It becomes more cost-effective to grow other things, too.”

Henderson says she will also be working with a faculty member from the Traditional Chinese Medicine Acupuncture program at KPU who is knowledgeable about using herbs. As part of the project, a student and a member of the teaching staff from the TCM program will join Henderson in screening some Asian herbs.

“If [the herbs] do function well and it’s possible to grow them in the greenhouse when they cannot grow them outside, then this project will hopefully provide the technology to make that possible for greenhouse production,” says Henderson. “It also offers to expand the number of crops that could be grown in greenhouses, especially when they’re more energy-efficient. And more crops for growers just diversifies their businesses.”

As Henderson points out, the closer one gets to a commercializable product, the more interested industry partners are. The technology in the works is a pre-commercial one, which means that the industry partners are interested in watching, but they’re not interested in contributing dollars at the moment. Instead, they’re contributing time and equipment.

“If the technology looks really good, they’ll be interested to invest in licenses and have access to that intellectual property and those products, but who knows exactly where it will end up in three years,” says Henderson. “It could end up with something ready to patent and produce or it might take longer than that, but [for now] it’s going. It’s moving.”

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