EaRTH-focused: U of T-Centennial College partnership to advance cleantech, build 'vertical farm'

Rendering of the proposed vertical farm at U of T Scarborough
The proposed net-zero vertical farm at U of T Scarborough is part of a broader partnership between the university and Centennial College focused on advancing the cleantech sector (rendering courtesy of U of T Scarborough and Centennial College)

The University of Toronto Scarborough and Centennial College are teaming up to establish the EaRTH District – an initiative aimed at advancing the cleantech sector through research, academic programming and commercialization.

EaRTH, which stands for Environmental and Related Technologies Hub, will be a knowledge and training centre at U of T Scarborough focused on the development of clean technologies.

Among the partnership’s plans: apply innovative technologies to food production in an urban setting through the development of Canada’s first net-zero vertical farm. 

“We know the future belongs to sustainable, clean technology and this partnership complements the strengths of both Centennial College and U of T Scarborough,” says Andrew Arifuzzaman, U of T Scarborough’s chief administrative officer, adding that U of T Scarborough is renowned for its expertise in environmental sciences while Centennial College is a leader in providing training in new and emerging sectors of the economy.

“This commitment is also an exciting opportunity to bring economic activity and jobs to the eastern GTA in a sector that is only going to become more important in the future.”

The proposed vertical farm, a state-of-the-art building, will create training and research opportunities in a variety of fields, including waste management, clean energy, sustainable building design, water conservation and urban agriculture, among others.

Andrew Petrou, the director of strategic initiatives and external relations at Centennial College, says cleantech is one of the fastest growing sectors of the Ontario economy, and that the EaRTH District will help train a skilled workforce to ensure the province remains internationally competitive.

“Every single component of the building, from the heating and cooling to the lighting to the vertical farm, is an element that students, industry and the community can interact with,” says Petrou.

“The goal is that they would be able to engage with this facility at all levels through programming, research, testing and experiential learning opportunities.”

Petrou adds that an important goal of the EaRTH District is to bring together industry, governments, community and academia to develop clean technology that can help build more resilient communities. Another is to connect with other cleantech innovation hubs around the world, building a global network to support and advance the sector.  

U of T Scarborough and Centennial College signed a memorandum of understanding in early 2019 and have already undergone an extensive consultation process for the vertical farm. The facility’s design will allow industry to test and commercialize clean technologies.

“The vertical farm will become a key resource in assisting communities across Canada in tackling issues related to food, water, air, energy, waste and advanced design and integrative systems,” says Professor Bernie Kraatz, who is U of T Scarborough’s vice-principal of research.

“These are all key areas in understanding how to create resilient communities in the face of climate change.”

U of T Scarborough and Centennial College are actively looking to expand EaRTH, which already includes the Environmental Science and Chemistry Building at U of T Scarborough. Built using sustainable building practices, the building houses research and teaching labs for environmental sciences.

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