This interview details Ceres Greenhouse Solutions, a Residential & Commercial Greenhouse Solutions company based in the United States. The interview is with Christopher Uhlig, CEO / Owner of Ceres Greenhouse Solutions.
Ceres was founded in 2011 with the goal of designing the most energy-efficient greenhouses. Marc Plinke (Ceres’ founder) wanted to enable people to grow their own food sustainably and year-round. Marc is an inventor-innovator who began his career as a chemical and process engineer working for Gore Technologies. When he landed in Boulder, CO, he retrofitted his family’s 1950’s ranch house into a “beyond-net-zero-energy home.”
That experience led him into his second career in greenhouse building design. He has spent the past decade applying his engineering mindset and expertise to building better and more energy-efficient greenhouses. After helping build a state-of-the-art commercial greenhouse funded by the Colorado Department of Agriculture, Ceres was born.
Fast forward 12 years and Ceres has expanded its commitments to designing sustainable systems for growing food to bring technology, data, and well-resourced partnerships together in order to offer “whole solutions” to our clients.
The cost of materials is a huge potential challenge. One of the key design principles for a Ceres greenhouse is to build in a way that maximizes natural principles (sun harvesting, insulated for year-round growing, etc.) and to employ renewable energy when possible. However, even renewable energy requires materials that cost money.
Supply chain slowdowns can also hinder the building process (as we saw during COVID-19) as well as the need for replacement parts. Another large problem is funding. Building a greenhouse requires capital investment. This can be difficult for some growers/businesses. That said, while costs remain high, we are seeing both an increase in the number of grants available and capital allotment per grant for energy-efficient agricultural projects.
Our fundamental objective at Ceres is to create a year-round, energy-efficient grow environment. We create this environment by coupling natural design principles (ex. passive solar design) with innovative technologies (ex. geothermal HVAC solutions). We recognize that beyond providing a well designed facility, we must bring together appropriate technologies, natural solutions, and focused data in order to maintain systems that both consider the environment and make financial sense.
Too much technology and you are driving up costs, and potential future technological failures; while with not enough technology, you might end up using more water than you need, or more labor than is necessary. Additionally, Ceres is committed to being involved with our clients every step of the design, build, and post-build process in order to ensure that our clients are successful and that the build and implementation process are able to move as efficiently and seamlessly as possible.
Currently, there are a lot of people struggling in the indoor farm business, which has an impact on investor confidence in the market as a whole. As indoor farming has grown in popularity, with simultaneous investment and venture capital, it was/is easy to invest in a grow-system (for example), only to see that company go out of business. When this happens businesses fail and confidence wanes.
Another issue indoor farms might run into is the rising cost of energy, which could cause a catastrophic spike in the cost of products. In order to create profitability indoor grows need to be of a certain size–which does not address the issue of reaching food deserts and other hyperlocal communities. Meanwhile, grow lights, while getting more efficient, are still very expensive to run. Supply chain issues are always a threat and affect indoor farms at a much larger scale–affecting the replacement of parts and the speed at which facilities can be built.
Lastly, there is a lack of variability in what is currently possible to grow profitably in an indoor grow. Most indoor farms are focused on leafy greens. If we want to increase the diversity of crops being grown we should look to solutions and systems that allow for more variability and are not limited to one (or a few crops) per grow solution.
Increasing our overall use of CO2 is not ideal. However, in general, CO2 is required to grow a better product. Thus, focussing on local CO2 re-use is a goal, which could come from Co-Gen facilities, or synergies with other industries, like breweries or data mining, instead of trucking CO2 into a facility.
There are opportunities to use leftover, or recycled CO2 from businesses that are simply disposing of it– such as breweries. Additionally, by creating a sealed environment, we ensure that we are using CO2 more efficiently–not allowing it to escape into the outside environment.
People can connect with us by visiting our website https://ceresgs.com, or by following us on Instagram or Facebook @ceresgreenhouses, LinkedIn (/ceres-greenhouse-solutions), or follow us on YouTube: @ceresgreenhousesolutions
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