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Unbeknown to many of the residents of the Isle of Wight, their homes are soon to be powered by energy that is not only more environmentally friendly, but will also help us grow better tomatoes too.

Here at Wight Salads (part of the APS Salads Group) we grow 26 hectares (approximately the size of 26 rugby pitches!) of tomatoes under glass and are long standing suppliers to M&S. In alignment with Plan A we are constantly working to become more sustainable as a business.

One major project we have in progress is the construction of a 22 megawatt Energy Centre at our site near Arreton on the Isle of Wight. This project is special because of how efficient this combined heat and power (CHP) plant will be; whilst a typical power station is only 15-20% efficient, ours will be more than 50% efficient; Partly thanks to the top of the range Rolls Royce generators that we are using, but also due to the close proximity of the 43,000 homes we will be supplying.
The great benefit, though, is that the carbon dioxide we are producing is not released into the atmosphere. Tomatoes convert CO2 into sugar; therefore we are cleaning the CO2 and then pumping this into the glasshouses. This will not only enhance the flavour , but produce more of them. Heat from the CHP will also be captured and used in the glasshouses, meaning that nothing is wasted from the energy production process.

There are multiple opportunities for this technology; we are now talking to a neighbouring anaerobic digestion plant to see whether we can utilise the gas and CO2 produced in their plant to run our engines and feed our tomatoes, which would be a great next step for us and provide them with an additional income stream too.

It turns out there are plenty of other ways tomatoes can help the environment as well and we are incredibly excited with another development which is starting to take shape. With 3 or 4 leaves needing to be removed from each plant every day, we have rather a lot of leaves at our disposal and, working with the University of Central Lancashire, we have found that when the leaves are chopped up they release substances which can be made into cellophane. We have actually made some A4 sheets in the lab so we know it works! Long term, this has huge implications for the industry as presently raw material for cellophane production is imported from Brazil through an incredibly energy intensive production process, so watch this space.

We have also found that when they are chopped up, tomato plants try to heal themselves and we are looking at ways to synthesize this process to create natural vaccines and crop protection products, which will allow us to use less pesticides in the future.

It’s fair to say that the level of innovation in the horticultural industry is truly far reaching at present with the need for sustainable intensification really driving new ideas. Who knows what we will find to do with tomatoes next?!

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