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US: Vertical farm cuts down operational costs by 40-60% using chillers

"Customers like Hardee Fresh find a 40-60% operational cost reduction utilizing Tecochill Chillers. Powered by natural gas instead of electricity, our units can provide cooling at a significantly lower cost than conventional electric chillers. Tecochill chillers reduce the facility's electricity need to just 1-2 kW per unit compared to 190-300 kW necessary to power an electric chiller of equivalent size," shares Abinand Rangesh, CEO at Tecogen.

Hardee Fresh is a USDA-certified organic vertical farm, growing organic lettuce, herbs, and power greens in a self-reliant, sustainable ecosystem. Located in Wauchula, FL, Hardee Fresh can annually harvest 500 acres worth of produce within just one acre of land. In 2018, Hardee Fresh began operation and has strived to grow sustainably by taking numerous steps to preserve and protect the environment.

Abinand Rangesh pictured in the middle at the Indoor AgCon 2023

So how do they keep their plants cool?
In their Florida facility, Hardee Fresh operates three 150-ton TECOCHILL® "STx Series, which are natural gas engine-driven chillers. This is a form of combined heat and power (CHP), which provides 450 tons of cooling.

Supplied by Tecogen, the chillers satisfied their priority to pursue a sustainable vertical farm by cutting a large chunk of their Scope 2 emissions when producing the cooling power on site and recovering the waste heat from the CHP system.

The Tecochill

How it helps save costs
Hardee Fresh can realize additional savings when using the engine waste heat, a free byproduct. In indoor cultivation, waste heat is used for dehumidification, space heating, and domestic hot water. Unlike the central power plant, which provides electricity to electric chillers at a relatively low efficiency (40-45%), using a variety of energy sources, a CHP system can achieve efficiencies of over 80%, cutting the associated GHG emissions by approximately 50%.

Abinand explains that this efficient simultaneous use of the engines' shaft power and captured waste heat is considered a form of "mechanical Combined Heat & Power (CHP)" by utilities and government agencies. "As a result, Tecochill chillers can qualify for significant state, federal, and utility incentives. These incentives can reduce a facility's upfront capital investment significantly and make the payback period for facility owners with Tecochill chillers, such as Hardee Fresh, even better."

Currently, there is a 40% Investment Tax Credit (ITC) offered by the federal government's recently passed Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) granted to all Tecogen products as well as a substantial portion of the installation cost to implement them.

The Tecogen team estimates that the three TECOCHILL STx-150 are saving approximately 600 tons of CO2 emissions annually compared to an electric chiller-based plant.

"As society moves towards a decarbonized future, Tecochill and CHP systems have a role to play. Efficient natural gas-fired systems reduce overall carbon emissions by displacing the utility's marginal fuel source at the power plant," according to Steve Lafaille, Tecogen's VP of Business Development.

"When an environmentally conscious customer installs a Tecochill chiller or another type of Tecogen CHP system, and they start making some of their own mechanical or electrical power while using the recovered heat onsite, they're allowing the utility to ramp down natural gas usage at the local power plant. The cleanest utility resources, like solar, wind, and arguably nuclear, are must-take resources. But the utility's next piece, which is the part being offset here, is its natural gas plant ramping up and down. When a Tecochill chiller operates, a corresponding amount of electricity is not needed. We're offsetting the utility's natural gas plant without its transmission losses and inefficiency."

Water-cooled engine-driven chillers

Future facilities
With a currently proven functional and sustainable vertical farm design, Hardee Fresh has plans to expand into a new 200,000 sq ft facility in Americus, GA, the new venture coined 'Americus Fresh.' Construction is expected to finish by late 2024 and will have created a hybrid chiller plant using three 400-ton TECOCHILL Engine-Driven Chillers along with electric chillers.

Hybrid chiller plants are commonly used for energy cost arbitrage and energy diversity and can be useful with large cooling loads. While many others have struggled with high energy costs related to cultivating indoors, Hardee Fresh has got it figured out, their Tecochill chillers being just one of the many important pieces of the puzzle to producing high-quality crops both economically and sustainably.

For more information:
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