From oil to biomass

March 15, 2012
Written by
Modernization plans include a new boiler using shredded wood scraps from local mill

Eric Frechette is a progressive businessman who looks for opportunities to build his business using the latest technology and by partnering with leading companies. He got a taste of the industry while selling “impeccably fresh” strawberries door to door in order to fund his university education.

Daniel Lacoste speaks with engineers near a fuel pile.
PHOTOS COURTESY NIAGROW SYSTEMS
As owner of Taste of the North, a distributor of fruits and vegetables grown within the St. Lawrence Valley, Frechette has had the opportunity to partner with leading local growers since he started the business in 1994 after graduating with a degree in business. One such grower is Daniel Lacoste, who operated a two-hectare greenhouse tomato operation in Charlevoix, Québec, located on a picturesque cliff overlooking the St. Lawrence River.

On June 29 of this year, Frechette purchased the shares of Serres Lacoste 2000 Inc. from Daniel and Gabriel Lacoste, and Lucie Beauchamps. He then began an aggressive expansion and modernization plan.
 

CONVERTING FROM WASTE OIL TO WOOD BIOMASS HEATING
“The plan was to convert the existing heating system from waste oil to biomass in order to save over 50 per cent of heating costs, 10,000 tons of gas emissions, and stop the dependence on fossil fuels. We also added another hectare of greenhouses in order to meet the demand for high-end beefsteak tomatoes in Québec and New England markets.”

Boiler installation.
When Frechette mentioned his plans to Marc Croteau, owner of Hol-Ser, he immediately arranged for a meeting with Niagrow Systems Inc. to discuss the design of the heating system. These were big plans with a short timeline, so they felt it made sense to work with experienced firms.

The project got underway in record time. Niagrow began delivering materials in August.

The 850-horsepower boiler was supplied by Chauffage Econoserres Inc. and will be fuelled by shredded wood scraps. The biomass arrives already shredded and as unsellable lumber and therefore a very affordable waste product. It arrives at Serres Lacoste directly from a mill only 20 kilometres away, which helps contribute to a philosophy of sustainability as well as a reliable and economical fuel source.

“A reliable fuel source is key,” says Duane VanAlstine. “We have seen biomass projects elsewhere in Canada and the U.S. fall off the tracks after supply sources have not met initial promises. Eric has done his research and you can see that he has approached his innovation plans with the same uncompromising quality requirements that Taste of the North has become famous for.”

DOME BUILT FOR FUEL STORAGE
The new greenhouses are completed, and include a storage dome for the biomass wood. A one-million-litre heat storage tank, and the heating system for both the new hectare and the pre-existing two hectares was completed in the fall. The boiler was installed in November.

Sebastien Cordeau, Daniel Lacoste, Phil Langendoen, Marc Croteau and Eric Frechette.
With no previous experience in growing, the new venture appears to be an aggressive leap of faith in vertical integration, but Frechette disagrees. “The acquisition seems natural in order to rely on the best supply of tomatoes I have seen during my 17 years in business.”  

Daniel Lacoste has agreed to stay on as grower, and both he and Frechette are extremely positive about the future of the business. “Eric does not know growing,” says Lacoste, “but knows everything about marketing. We are a good team.”

PROVINCIAL INCENTIVES ASSISTED PROJECT
Frechette says financial incentives provided through a Québec government program helped advance the project.

Business owners, greenhouse growers and governments need to align themselves with progressive thinking, says Leigh Coulter, of Niagrow Systems Inc. “Moving forward with environmentally conscious decisions in the future will be an economic reality. Canadian greenhouse growers and forward-thinking suppliers have an opportunity to lead the way.

Working together and partnering with companies that have expertise is essential to success. Clearly this is something Eric Frechette has done an exceptional job with throughout his career.”

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