THE COMPANY

APS Group is one of the UK’s biggest tomato growers, supplying leading supermarket chains with high-quality tomatoes all year round.

THE CHALLENGE: A CONSTANT DEMAND FOR CO2 AND HEAT

APS Group needed large amounts of CO2 at their 12.5 ha nursery in Kent to increase crop yield and quality.

“The five elements you need are heat, light, water, nutrition and carbon. If you have them, you get more sugar, and so better tomatoes,” says Phil Pearson, Group Development Director at APS Group. “The piece of that jigsaw that I was always struggling to get enough of was CO2.”

Buying in large quantities of CO2 is expensive. And it wasn’t their only requirement: they also needed variable amounts of heat, depending on weather conditions.

In line with the company ethos, and the demands of customers, any solution would have to be sustainable and low-carbon.

THE SOLUTION: A STATE-OF-THE ART CHP ENERGY CENTRE

P3P funded, designed and built a gas-fired CHP (combined heat and power) energy centre for APS Group.

The state-of-the-art design used two 7.5-MW Rolls Royce gas engines, the first such installation for a UK horticulture site. It recovers both heat and carbon dioxide, with excess power fed into the National Grid. Total construction time was just 10 months.

A TAILORED CHP SOLUTION

Big benefits for business

  • 100% cleaned-up CO2 used in growing process
  • 90% energy efficiency
  • 10% increase in crop yield
  • Lower energy costs

And from the very beginning, the solution was tailored to the company’s needs.

“It wasn’t a case of ‘you have to have what suits us’”, says Pearson. “They started from what I wanted – and that really got my interest. From that meeting, we never looked back.”

APS Group now gets exactly the inputs of heat and CO2 that their crop needs.

A 5.6m litre thermal storage tank is heated for approximately 12 hours a day, and releases heat over a 24-hour period. Requirements for heat can fluctuate greatly from day to day, so teams from APS and P3P monitor the status remotely and fine-tune accordingly.

“The grower can relax – he doesn’t have to worry about buying energy in a variable market. He can just concentrate on what he’s good at,” says Pearson. “Which means we get more tomatoes, better tasting tomatoes, with a better shelf life.”

THE BENEFITS: LOWER COSTS, INCREASED YIELD, IMPROVED SUSTAINABILITY

APS Group has seen yields increase by 10% while energy costs have decreased. In benchmarking tests of production against competitors, they come out significantly ahead.

100% of cleaned-up CO2 is used in the growing process, reducing the company’s carbon footprint in line with their sustainability objectives. The CHP solution delivers 90% energy efficiency, far ahead of the figure for conventional gas (49-52%) or coal (38%) power stations.

The project was so successful that APS Group has extended it to two other sites.

“We’re in our third project in almost as many years,” says Pearson, “so that says a lot about the working relationship between our two companies. It excites me actually. We’ve got all sorts of interesting things that we’re doing together.”