The architectural rendition of Canada's first net-zero vertical farm

Cleantech manufacturers can find epic opportunities in the Greater Toronto Area

Ontario’s new EaRTH District encourages cleantech companies to take advantage of unparalleled R&D facilities, workers with the right skills and available serviced industrial and commercial space.

If you’re a cleantech manufacturer and in the market to establish a new business, expand your current one, or conduct leading-edge research and development, Andrew Arifuzzaman urges you to look at the east end of Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

Arifuzzaman is the Chief Administrative Officer for the University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC) and spokesperson for the Environmental and Related Technologies Hub, EaRTH District for short. It’s a bold new initiative that brings together five post-secondary institutions—Ontario Tech University, Trent University, Durham College, Centennial College and UTSC—to advance research, development, commercialization and manufacture of clean, green, sustainable solutions.

“Our goal is to turn the Eastern GTA into a centre of excellence for cleantech, from concept to final product,” says Arifuzzaman, who adds, “Whether you’re an established cleantech company or a start-up, now is the time to get in on the ground floor of an exciting new innovation hub.”

So, what makes the EaRTH District special? Does it really offer forward-thinking companies unprecedented opportunities?

Arifuzzaman makes a convincing case, starting with the five partner’s combined research strengths in environmental sciences, advanced technology and related emerging sectors. “Our R&D capabilities run the gamut from clean energy and agri-food to advanced materials and manufacturing to logistics and transportation,” he says.

And when it comes to providing training to meet the growing industry demand for workers in emerging sectors, EaRTH can deliver on that as well. “Centennial College has long been a leader in providing training in new and emerging sectors of the economy—and it’s always open to collaborating with industry.”

Finally, this segment of the GTA has around 540 acres of underutilized industrial and commercial space, some of it available for lease, some for purchase. All of it provides access to an extensive and sophisticated transportation infrastructure that includes rail, road and deep-sea ports.

A rendition of UTSC's new undergraduate student residence from NMT and Ellesmere.
UTSC’s new undergraduate student residence, which features cutting-edge sustainable technologies, will result in 40-60% energy savings compared to a conventional building—while providing students with an outstanding environment for living and learning.

The establishment of EaRTH District was announced in October 2021. The partners began right away, unveiling an impressive list of initiatives already under development. One is in sustainable building design, as showcased in the new student residence under construction at UTSC.

“It’s the largest passive house project of its kind in North America,” says Arifuzzaman. The low-energy design concept includes high-efficiency criteria for building and window insulation, as well as heating and ventilation. Among the building’s energy-efficient features are triple-glazed windows, walls with improved thermal performance and continuous insulation. When complete, the residence will house 750 students on nine floors, with a roof-top garden.

Also in development is Canada’s first net-zero vertical farm and living lab. It will be a state-of-the-art, carbon-neutral training and research building that will use a multi-disciplinary and cross-sectoral approach to test and verify the latest advances in cleantech, high-performance buildings and sustainable urban agriculture practices such as aquaponics and vertical farming. This exciting partnership is between UTSC—which will contribute research in areas as diverse as waste management, clean energy, water conservation, sustainable building design and urban agriculture—and Centennial College, which will develop programs to train the workers of the future.

A rendering from above of EaRTH's vertical farm
Canada’s first net-zero vertical farm is one of several urban farming initiatives that will transform food production, access, quality and sustainability. The facility’s design will allow the industry to test and commercialize clean technologies.

“The vertical farm will become a key resource for communities across Canada to tackle issues related to food, water, air, energy, waste and advanced design and integrative systems,” says Arifuzzaman, who sees a future—not too distant—where every grocery store has a vertical farm on its roof, providing fresh produce at a fraction of the cost it takes to ship it in.

And there are initiatives underway in the transportation sector, including the development of technologies to improve fuel economy by up to 70%—and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 40%—through energy capture from vehicle brake systems to re-charge batteries for hybrid hydraulic heavy vehicles (HHHVs) and hybrid electric heavy vehicles (HEHVs).

“We’re creating something truly special here, and we’re always on the hunt for new partners, including industry partners.” He adds, “It’s an exciting time to be in the cleantech sector. The opportunities are almost endless. Come and join us.”

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