By Vern Faulkner
Saanich News
April 02, 2003

Omega Biotech used to discard about half a tonne of the small brown husks a week – that is, until Vancouver Island Technology Park (VITP) green initiatives manager, Joe Van Belleghem, saw opportunity in them thar' husks.

A VITP tenant, Omega Biotech extracts nutrients and antioxidants from grape seeds grown on the slopes of Mt. St. Helens that are packaged for use around the world.

Van Belleghem and Rick Weatherhead, Omega Biotech's director of business development, are exploring a plan to compost the grape seed husks on site and then sell them to the nearby Horticultural Centre of the Pacific (HCP).

Besides being saved the expense of having to have the waste trucked away, Omega Biotech has the pride of knowing it's doing something good for the environment, which is particularly important these days because "everybody in the community wants things that are sustainable, recyclable," Weatherhead notes.

"Green buildings that are being good to the environment have to be good to the community (also)," Van Belleghem agrees. "This is an ideal example of building a community."

If Van Belleghem has his way, the environment pay-off won't stop there.

One of the byproducts of the composting process is heat that Van Belleghem hopes to harness and pipe back into the tech park's central heating system.

"You've got something you can sell that's organic and you can use the heat from it to do all sorts of things," says Van Belleghem, outlining his plan with an enthusiastic simplicity.

If their plan works as well as they think it will, Weatherhead and Van Belleghem intend share the lessons they've learned through their own composting experiences with wineries around the province to encourage them to put the waste that once went to the landfill back into vineyard soil.

"It closes the environmental cycle," says Weatherhead, adding that the plan is a perfect example of the VITP's philosophy that what's good for the environment is usually good for business, too.

"You've got high tech companies in here of all sorts," Weatherhead observes. "You've got high-tech manufacturing and now we're talking about high-tech recycling. Why didn't we do this before?"

Of course, a number of obstacles still need to be overcome before the plan becomes a reality. At the moment, neither Weatherhead nor Belleghem are certain that the grape seed husks can be successfully composted into a useful organic material.

But, then again, that's a job for the HCP.

Hoke Holcomb, past HCP president, project supervisor and tireless volunteer, says that the HCP has been tasked with figuring out how to compost the grape husks – and what the composted material could be used for.

"I don't think they were sure whether it would be a fertilizer or a soil amendment," explains Holcomb, who adds that the research and development project is the first of its kind at the HCP.

"I see it as a two-pronged project. I see the smaller-scale grape-seed project that requires some low-scale research and development … and then the larger project with the grape industry," Holcomb says.

Traditionally, grape orchards have used a lot of chemical fertilizers, which not only have serious impacts on water systems, but also use non-renewable petrochemicals as a base product. Naturally it would be a tremendous asset to the province's wineries and vineyards to figure out a way to turn winery waste into marketable fertilizer.

It's a new frontier waiting to be explored, and all that may be needed is a little funding – perhaps a grant from a government or environmental agency – to make it happen.

"If someone is willing to do a little capital funding for us to bring our facilities up to snuff to do research and development in composting, we have the capacity to do that work," Holcomb says.

"This would be increasing our capacity in an area we haven't developed in the past," he adds. "If we can develop a much more professional capacity in one area, that will help us across the board."