Ottawa’s The Growcer trials concentrated CO2 spray to speed up hydroponic growing

Corey Ellis
Corey Ellis is a founder of The Growcer, which provides equipment to help northern communities grow food year-round. (Photo by Mark Holleron)

An Ottawa company that builds specially designed containers for hydroponic fruit and vegetable growth in northern communities has inked a deal with a Toronto firm that it hopes will significantly boost the growing capacity of its products.

The Growcer is a local startup that converts 40-foot-long shipping containers into weatherproof units that can grow produce hydroponically using only light, carbon dioxide and nutrient-rich water. The company says it’s working with southern Ontario firm CO2GRO to install a system that sprays concentrated carbon dioxide into its units to speed up the growing process.

The companies are spending $80,000 to test CO2GRO’s patented technology in The Growcer’s containers. The firms are seeking funding assistance for the project from a pair of non-profit organizations, Bioindustrial Innovation Canada and Ontario Agri-Food Technologies.

“We see the economic advantages of growing plants faster using dissolved CO2 gas sprayed on plant leaves, particularly for harsh northern winter conditions when importing fresh leafy produce is extraordinarily expensive,” The Growcer CEO Corey Ellis said in a statement.

A full-scale demonstration model of the project will be built at Ottawa’s Bayview Yards, where The Growcer will conduct trials of the technology on numerous types of plants. CO2GRO will also conduct other trials through its research partnership at Minnesota-based St. Cloud State University.

Launched in 2016 out of the University of Ottawa’s student-run social entrepreneurship program Enactus, The Growcer has sold seven of its mobile containers to customers in the Arctic at an average price of just over $200,000, allowing them to grow produce year-round rather than relying on expensive shipments from the south. The company says it has sales pending in other areas.

Ellis told OBJ last year his firm is aiming to address food insecurity and change the way produce is bought and consumed in northern Canada, while also working to improve health and wellness education and increase employment in remote communities.

“We know this is a huge issue that a lot of people are facing,” he said. “The minute people hear what we’re proposing, they want to jump on board. We expect that as we scale up our ability to deliver these and scale up our sales effort, we’ll be able to have a lot more of these things running.”