Tom Colclough checks on his crop of 6

Surrey resident builds unique food biodome

EcoTech structure the first of its kind in Canada; aims to tackle global agriculture challenges.

Driving down 184 Street near 42 Avenue, there are plenty of farms, however one Surrey backyard boasts a 3,000-sq.-ft. biodome.

Tom Colclough has been working on the lightweight structure for four years and describes its as a “one-man building.”

“I built this thing. I did the riveting, the welding, the concrete pouring, even the excavation. I did everything to it.”

Inside Colclough’s biodome is a crop of 6,000 strawberry plants stacked five tiers high, growing in a soil-less environment and fed hydroponically.

Since it’s a closed system, the biodome uses 10 times less water than conventional farming, utilizing rainwater and reverse osmosis of well water.

“We use a lot less water. I only feed these babies twice a day,” Colclough said.

He said he’d eventually like to grow food of ethnic varieties, but he chose strawberries because the results are almost immediate.

Colclough said innovative agriculture has been a long-time interest.

“What made me want to do it was nutrition,” Colclough said. “These are issues that are important to me: food security and nutrition, but also where your food is coming from.”

Colclough was a nurse with the National Health Service in the United Kingdom in his 20s. He also spent many years working in the health care industry in Africa.

Now 40 years later, Colclough hopes the biodome will address the planet’s growing need for food.

“We actually want to grow food in hostile places… or places where they haven’t got the resources.”

Tom Baumann, a University of the Fraser Valley agricultural technology professor, said by the end of 2050, the planet will have to feed 9 billion people.

“With this model of vertical gardening, you can have five times the output on the same footprint of land.”

The biodome was made for Eco Energy Tech Canada (EcoTech) and the company envisions the domes being used by schools, hospitals, food aid programs, commercial growers and governments.

The biodome is the first of it’s kind in Canada to be built with thin layers of thermoplastic Ethylene Tetrafluoroethylene (ETFE). The layers are welded together and filled with air to create soft pillows.

ETFE is extremely strong and can withstand the elements while remaining stable.

The material is 0.2 per cent the weight of glass, has more flexibility and can be built higher.

Because of the dome’s lightweight material, it can be built on top of buildings in urban centres.

Colclough said research involved with the prototype will help design an even better, stronger model.

“We need to know how to improve it, so when we go to the commercial side we’re a step ahead of the game.”

Colclough said his biodome is the prototype, but the intention is to build future ETFE biodomes as big as 300,000 square feet.

EcoTech plans to publicly sell shares on various international stock exchanges. It also plans to market a larger model, most likely in China.