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What does the new tissue culture facility at Rijk Zwaan look like?

What can you do if you move the tissue culture department and need more growth chambers than you can plan for? William Voermans, head of the Cell Biology Implementation department at Rijk Zwaan, faced this dilemma. The vegetable and fruit breeder turned to Certhon for assistance to find a solution.

William Voermans in the laboratory facility at Rijk Zwaan in Fijnaart.

From growth chamber to vertical lift system
The traditional tissue culture growth chamber needed a revamp. In the old setup, cultivation was done in trays, on shelves under fluorescent light. "Tissue culture is quite conservative. We knew fluorescent lighting worked, it was stable – so we preferred not to change too much. In principle, a plant has everything it needs in the medium, although light does have an effect."

The heat from the fluorescent light then had to be removed, through cooling by air bags. Now, Rijk Zwaan has opted for water-cooled LED lighting – with a fixed spectrum for stability, loosely based on the fluorescent spectrum. By measuring the current per shelf, they can also tell if the lights are on or not. The water cooling of the lighting also ensures a stable temperature, even when the lights are off.

Another issue was the staff always entering and exiting of staff, causing unwanted air movements. "Especially now that we're also moving upwards, I didn't see it feasible for people to constantly be moving carts around, also for efficiency's sake. Moreover, new construction is simply very costly in terms of square meters."

The solution was found in a converted vertical lift system by Certhon, similar to the order-picking systems in large warehouses. This requires fewer movements – good for the air movements, but also for job satisfaction, as there's less need to walk back and forth.

Stability is crucial
The new growth chambers had to meet even more requirements: "We grow everything at a temperature of 25 degrees, day and night. The intensity and spectrum of the lighting must also remain stable, and the light must shine equally strong everywhere on the shelf. And the humidity must also remain stable, all to keep the conditions in the lab consistent."

Layers and LED strips are clearly visible in the cultivation space.

Air treatment through recirculation
The system for treating the air in the cultivation facility is based on recirculation. This immediately also yields a bit of energy gain, as the warm air doesn't need to be blown outside. The heat can be kept inside.

That air must also be clean. "This is done via flow cabinets that contain a HEPA filter. This technology is all in the technical room in our attic, which extends 3 meters up, on top of the 8 meters the building is tall – allowing the lift system to run all the way to the top."

The cell towers 11 meters above us.

The clean air is blown gently from top to bottom over the two lift systems. This makes the air sterile.

Press the button, the lift picks the requested shelf, the hatch slides open and is presented to the lab technicians on a tray. All fully automated.

The entire project came about because Certhon dared to take the risk, William explains. As a result, there is now a state-of-the-art tissue culture facility with all the bells and whistles.

A final special feature that William wants to highlight is the LIMS system (Laboratory Information Management System). "All laboratory data is stored in it, and our track & trace is also linked to it. People are working and can call up the shelf. You click on it, and the shelf comes right to you."

Another piece of job satisfaction, concludes William, who values a long-term collaboration between Rijk Zwaan and Certhon. "For us, this project is truly the pinnacle of R&D – 30 percent of our turnover goes there, about 15 million per month. This lays the foundation for all new varieties of all crops of Rijk Zwaan worldwide."

William is enthusiastic about the solutions that Certhon has provided Rijk Zwaan.

For more information:
Rijk Zwaan
Eerste Kruisweg 9
4793 RS, Fijnaart
Tel.: +31 6 38 61 96 74

John van der Sande
ABC Westland 555
2685 DG, Poeldijk
Tel.: +31 174 22 50 80

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