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Going Vertical: How Vertical Farming Is Revolutionizing the Cannabis Industry

By Jeffrey L Garber
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In the cannabis industry, it’s crucial to be able to predict the future, to adapt and survive in a competitive industry that is arguably regulated more closely than any other.

From licensing to buildout, there are a growing number of barriers to entering the cannabis industry as a cultivator. Those who are lucky to successfully establish a grow operation are well aware that one of the crucial hurdles is managing space to maximize facility efficiency and capacity.

To stay profitable, the more plants you can grow and harvest at a time in a continuous cycle, the better. From an economic and environmental perspective, managing cost, space and time comes down to automation and efficiencies. One of the most efficient ways we optimize is through the practice of vertical farming.

Vertical farming maximizes canopy square footage while minimizing Cost of Goods Sold (COGs) to produce high-quality cannabis at scale year-round, and the industry is slowly finding that this method is an incredibly efficient and profitable way to maximize cannabis output.

Yellow Dream Farm is our family-owned cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and distribution company based in San Bernardino County, California, often known as the Silicon Valley of cannabis. Our craft, boutique-style cannabis is grown from floor to ceiling in the 30,000-square-foot facility. We’re using cutting-edge technology that’s only come to market in the last five years and using a variety of sustainable practices. With environmental and feeding efficiencies, we’re able to harvest 300 pounds per week when compared to 150 pounds per week from a facility of the same size.

Vertical Farming for Space Optimization

Like any medical field, cannabis has seen large numbers of outside investments into the space, bringing ideologies and efficiencies from other time-tested industries. One such efficiency is vertical farming – a practice already seen in large-scale agriculture.

The Yellow Dream Farm vertical cultivation facility

We choose vertical farming to maximize our canopy square footage and minimize COGs to produce high-quality cannabis at scale. The barrier to entry into the cannabis industry is expensive, and you must utilize every square inch to stay profitable. We believe vertical farming is the most efficient and most profitable way to maximize output and our numbers can back that up; for example, we can produce double the amount of flower than the average single-tier room with the same square footage, without doubling the cost.

Our rooms contain double stacks to double room capacity by using ceiling heights instead of square footage. Even though vertical farming has larger start-up costs, we can maximize square footage and output, allowing us to get a better and faster ROI. Vertical farming can be done in many different ways but the way we built our facility was always with a sustainable outlook. We also look to improve and remove human error; with full irrigation control and crop steering technologies, we can recalibrate sensors, irrigation media and environmental sensors when needed based on successes, challenges or environmental constraints. Additionally, we have a few other sustainable practices that make a difference.

Water Conservation, Lighting and Automation

Being a California-based grower, water conservation is a key part of our operations. With San Bernardino County being located in the heart of the high desert, conserving water is not only a requirement but a competitive advantage. Our practices provide cost savings which we then pass along to our customers. Each cannabis plant on average requires between a half gallon and one gallon of water per day, which we then recirculate through condensate water from our A/C and dehumidifiers. All runoff nutrient water is re-filtered and reused to get the most out of our nutrients before discarding waste. Our freezer panel walls hold temperatures at consistent rates, and we have a fully automated system to dial in specific needs at any given time.

LED lights above a crop at Yellow Dream Farm

Lighting is another major environmental and capital cost. Our primary lighting system is LED technology, and we use LED spectrums to find which spectrum benefits the plant most. With LEDs, our energy consumption is 30 percent less.

Vertical Farming Is the Future of Cannabis and Agriculture

Vertical farming has been hailed as the future of many agricultural industries and cannabis is no different. We already see large vertical farms in most legal states, but surprisingly it’s still not a common style of growing. As the price per pound steadily declines in California, being able to keep COGs down will allow vertical farmers to sustain and thrive in this volatile industry.

In order to adapt, grow and leave a positive mark on the industry, we must pave the way for new styles of growing and utilizing new technology and science that was not available to growers in the past. We can use these advanced new technologies to make real-time changes to each sector of our facility and optimize both people power, and energy efficiency. And most importantly, we’ll be able to produce top-quality cannabis for adults to enjoy at affordable prices.

For more information, visit Yellow Dream Farm.

At Delic Labs, We Have a Dream: A Cannabis Better Future

By Dr. Markus Roggen, Amanda Assen, Dr. Eric Janusson
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Many people associate cannabis with eco-friendly, counter-cultural movements, but we know the environmental impacts of the cannabis industry are significant. Given the climate crisis, cannabis production companies have a responsibility to ensure future demands of the industry are met in an environmentally sustainable way. We also know that as the world is seeing the impacts of climate change, consumers are changing their spending habits 1. As a result, companies also have the financial incentive to seriously consider implementing more environmental policies, to align their interests with the interests of consumers. Unfortunately, restrictions on cannabis research and the legal industry create barriers to implementing many environmentally friendly alternatives in production. However, this does not give us an excuse to do nothing while we wait – there are many steps that can be taken while we work to overcome these barriers. Our team at Delic Labs aims to help companies ensure the environmental and economic sustainability of the cannabis industry. So, we did some research and developed the Cannabis Better Future (CBF) concept, a guide that considers the impacts of cannabis cultivation and processing on the environment. The pillars of CBF are:

  1. Use of renewable/recyclable materials in production

The packaging used for legal cannabis products is infamously excessive. A standard 3.5-grams of dried cannabis is estimated to come packaged in more than 70 grams of plastic. This seemingly redundant packaging is done to meet regulations surrounding cannabis packaging that often require single-use plastic with labels and warnings at specific sizes 2. Despite this, there is work being done to get biodegradable packaging approved in the industry.

More companies, such as Knot Plastic, are using plant-based materials to provide medical-grade biodegradable alternatives to single-use plastic 3. As members of the industry, we should support these companies and call for regulations to approve biodegradable packaging. As for immediate actions that can be taken, we can turn to companies that reduce the amount of plastic from the industry that ends up in landfills. The Tweed x TerraCycle Cannabis Packaging Recycling Program accepts all cannabis containers from licensed producers in Canada – free of charge – and melts down the plastic to create new products 4. This includes tins, plastic bags, tubes and bottles with child-proof caps. The program has saved more than 165,000 containers from ending up in landfills.

  1. Upcycle biomass waste

It is estimated that for every pound of cannabis harvested, up to 4.5 pounds of plant waste is generated 5. Cannabis biomass waste can be discarded in four different ways: via landfill, composting, in-vessel digestion or incineration 6. Cannabis bio-waste usually ends up in landfills because this is the cheapest method. However, landfill disposal represents a missed opportunity for companies to use biomass waste for economic and environmentally-friendly uses.

Converting biomass for other uses will drastically limit waste

To reduce landfill waste, some companies are looking at sustainable bio-circular solutions, where cannabis biomass is converted into something of industrial use such as compost, bio-plastics and paper packaging for cannabis products 7.  The easiest way to reuse cannabis biomass with current regulations in place is to upcycle it to produce compost and greywater that can be used for industrial cultivation 8. Currently, bleach is commonly used to remove THC from biomass, making it unfit to be used for these purposes 6. However, Micron Waste Technologies Inc. have shown enzymatic denaturation can be adopted on the industrial scale to remove THC from the biomass, resulting in reusable water and compostable matter 8. Turning to this alternative method would also reduce the amount of required fertilizer and replace bleach with a more environmentally-friendly solution.

  1. Recycle production side streams

Terpenes are the compounds in cannabis that give it distinctive aromas and flavors sought after by consumers.During the cannabis drying stage, over 30% of terpenes can be lost along with the water phase from the product 9. This terpene-containing water phase gets trapped in drying rooms and decarboxylation ovens and is usually thrown out. To reintroduce the terpenes in their products, companies usually purchase them 10.However, they instead could be recapturing terpenes that are otherwise going to waste, and re-introducing them into their products. Recapturing terpenes would not only reduce the production and shipment energy that goes along with purchased terpenes, but also the costs of buying them.

There are many other wasted by-products that can be recycled. Ethanol that has been used as extraction solvent can be reused as cleaning solvent, reducing the need to purchase ethanol separately for cleaning purposes. Further, the condensation caught in HVACs can be recycled to water plants.

  1. Optimize production energy efficiency
LED lights use less energy and omit less heat than other more traditional options

A study by Summers et al. 11 found that from producing one kilogram of dried cannabis flower, the emitted greenhouse gasses emissions range from 2,283 to 5,184 kg of CO2. Electricity used for indoor cultivation is the major culprit in producing these emissions. In fact, over $6 billion is spent annually to power industrial cannabis growth facilities in the U.S. alone12. Growing outdoors is significantly more energy efficient; however, non-auto flowering, high-THC cannabis plants depend on the specific timing of daylight (and darkness) to grow properly 13. Optimal conditions for these plants are not always achievable in outdoor setting. Meanwhile, auto-flowering plants that are hearty outdoors are generally lower in THC content 14. Promoting research into generating more stabilized cannabis cultivars may help outdoor growing be a more feasible solution. Given the recent work being done with genetically modified and transgenic plants, upregulating THC production in cannabis and increasing the heartiness in different climates is well within the realm of possibility 15–17.

In the meantime, cultivation facilities can do their part to maintain a controlled growth environment with reduced energy waste. Companies that are still using high-intensity sodium lights should consider switching to high-efficiency LED bulbs 12. These are a good alternative option as they produce less heat, and as a result, require less mechanical cooling. It has been shown that many plants, including cannabis, might even do better under blue-red LED lights 18,19. Growth under these conditions correlated with an increase in THC and CBD levels, and overall larger plants 18. In addition to low energy consumption, LED lamps have flexible mobility and a tunable spectrum range. This makes it possible to mediate the spectrum specifically for cannabis crops by controlling each spectral range and manipulating spectral quality and light intensity precisely. Finally, lights can also be brought closer to plants, to further reduce the amount of mechanical cooling needed.

  1. Utilize high-precision processes

Reducing energy use while maintaining production rates can only be done if the process is optimized. Our own research improves process optimization in the cannabis industry. A key component of industrial optimization is reducing wasted time on various machines. For cannabis producers, this machine “junk time” can accumulate when the instrumentation is not progressing the reaction.

Reducing energy use in this case means ensuring machines are not in operation if they are not progressing the reaction. For example, many companies spend approximately two hours on the decarboxylation step because decarboxylation is always complete after two hours 20; however, decarboxylations are often complete in as little as thirty minutes 21. Companies can save energy by installing a monitor on decarboxylation systems to stop reactions once they are complete.

Reducing the environmental impacts of the cannabis industry is crucial to combat the developing climate crisis. While lifting restrictions on cannabis research and mitigating stigmas surrounding the legal industry will be what ultimately paves the way for meaningful changes toward a sustainable industry, cannabis companies cannot wait for regulatory changes to occur before considering eco-friendly practices. As outlined by CBF, there are existing actions which all companies can take to reduce their carbon footprint immediately. Delic Labs, and many other companies we have noted, aim to support companies in making these decisions for a better future for cannabis.


References:

  1. Statista Research Department. Share of consumers worldwide who have changed the products and services they use due to concern about climate change in 2019. https://www.statista.com/statistics/1106653/change-made-consumer-bevaviour-concern-climate-change-worldwide/ (2021).
  2. Akeileh, O., Moyer, E., Sim, P. & Vissandjee Amarsy, L. Chronic Waste: Strategies to Reduce Waste and Encourage Environmentally-Friendly Packaging in Canada’s Legal Cannabis. https://www.mcgill.ca/maxbellschool/files/maxbellschool/policy_lab_2020_-_strategies_to_reduce_waste_and_encourage_environmentally-friendly_packaging_in_canadas_legal_cannabis_industry.pdf (2020).
  3. Bauder, P. Ry Russell of Knot Plastic️: 5 Things We Must Do to Inspire the Next Generation about Sustainability and the Environment. (2020).
  4. Waste360 Staff. Tweed, TerraCycle Take Cannabis Packaging Recycling Across Canada. (2019).
  5. Peterson, E. Industry Report: The State of Hemp and Cannabis Waste. CompanyWeek (2019).
  6. Commendatore, C. The Complicated World of Cannabis Waste Generation (Part One). Waste 360 (2019).
  7. Drotleff, L. Cannabis-based packaging and paper could reduce waste, promote sustainability. MJBiz Daily(2020).
  8. Waste 360 staff. Micron Secures U.S. Design Patent for Waste Treatment Tech. Waste 360 (2019).
  9. Challa, S. R. DRYING KINETICS AND THE EFFECTS OF DRYING METHODS ON QUALITY (CBD, TERPENES AND COLOR) OF HEMP (Cannabis sativa L.) BUDS. (2020).
  10. Erickson, B. Cannabis industry gets crafty with terpenes. chemical and engineering news (2019).
  11. Summers, H. M., Sproul, E. & Quinn, J. C. The greenhouse gas emissions of indoor cannabis production in the United States. Nature Sustainability 4, (2021).
  12. Reott, J. How Does Legalized Cannabis Affect Energy Use? Alliance to Save Energy (2020).
  13. When To Plant Cannabis Outside: A State By State Guide. aPotforPot.comhttps://apotforpot.com/blogs/apotforpot/when-to-plant-cannabis-outside-a-state-by-state-guide/ (2020).
  14. 15 Pros And Cons of Autoflowering Cannabis. aPotforPot.com https://apotforpot.com/blogs/apotforpot/15-pros-and-cons-of-autoflowering-seeds/ (2019).
  15. Ye, X. et al. Engineering the Provitamin A (β-Carotene) Biosynthetic Pathway into (Carotenoid-Free) Rice Endosperm. Science 287, 303–305 (2000).
  16. Giddings, G., Allison, G., Brooks, D. & Carter, A. Transgenic plants as factories for biopharmaceuticals. Nature Biotechnology 18, 1151–1155 (2000).
  17. Hu, H. & Xiong, L. Genetic Engineering and Breeding of Drought-Resistant Crops. Annual Review of Plant Biology 65, 715–741 (2014).
  18. Wei, X. et al. Wavelengths of LED light affect the growth and cannabidiol content in Cannabis sativa L. Industrial Crops and Products 165, (2021).
  19. Sabzalian, M. R. et al. High performance of vegetables, flowers, and medicinal plants in a red-blue LED incubator for indoor plant production. Agronomy for Sustainable Development 34, (2014).
  20. LunaTechnologies. Decarboxylation: What Is It and Why Is It Important? LunaTechnologies.
  21. Shah, S. et al. Fast, Easy, and Reliable Monitoring of THCA and CBDA Decarboxylation in Cannabis Flower and Oil Samples Using Infrared Spectroscopy. (2021).

Technological Evolution of the Cannabis Industry

By Serge Chistov
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Discussions about the evolution of the cannabis industry are often focused on the legalization of adult use and medical cannabis, the growth of the business models associated with the industry and so on. An interesting corollary to those discussions is how technology is impacting the evolution of this growth industry. 

It’s no longer just a question of growing some buds and offering up a high, with little thought as to product, packaging, marketing or the end consumer. Technology has changed the way cannabis is being commodified, and that’s a good thing. After all, with more and more states making adult use legal, creating products that appeal to a wider market and demographic is in part accomplished thanks to tech.

From the growth stage

Few growers are using outdoor facilities, where the elements cannot be controlled. Until recently, indoor growers ran into issues like simulating natural light to a level that would be of maximum benefit to the plants. The amount of lighting required to be effective was very expensive to maintain in terms of electricity consumption, but that is changing.

Then LEDs came on the scene: high quality, low heat light with a far larger and more natural spectrum, versus blue and red light frequencies that are available in standard bulbs. Using far less electricity and emitting less heat, therefore requiring less need for additional air cooling, as well as longer bulb life spans, LEDs have become an industry standard.

Beyond the plant

LED lights use less energy and omit less heat than other more traditional options

As with any agricultural product, the important work is in growing the plants but thanks to technology, producers and manufacturers can now offer their customers a much wider array of products than buds for smoking. Edibles, vapes, oils, capsules and even creams are all products of technology influencing change in the cannabis industry. For consumers who aren’t interested in smoking directly, these offer promising options. 

The issue consumers have often had with edibles has been the lag time from consumption to high, as the THC has to pass through the digestive system, which takes upwards of an hour, and reduces the effectiveness of the dosage as some just doesn’t make it to the bloodstream. Technology has led to the creation of a method for making non-smokable forms of cannabis just as effective as a direct to the lungs hit of a joint: nanoencapsulation.

The point of nanoencapsulation is to reduce the size of the cannabinoid to a nano size and protect it—the encapsulation part of the equation—so that it becomes soluble in water, or in the body which is 75% water. The ability to bypass the digestive system and the gastric fluids that impact the effectiveness of an edible, and get it through the stomach walls to the bloodstream, means that nanoencapsulated formulations can have the virtually the same “time to a high” effects as a joint, without the need to inhale smoke.

It’s now possible for consumers to quantify exactly how much THC they are consuming, allowing for new and different consumption styles, including micro-dosing. Finding the right “dosage” for each individual—as everyone responds differently to cannabinoids—isn’t a simple task but newer technology is setting up a path to personalization that will make it easier.

Personalization

Imagine being able to take a test that would allow you to determine the perfect balance of THC and CBD dosage, as well as the right strain of cannabis, to create the desired effect. Whether that’s a reduction of anxiety, improved sleep or the psychoactive high that cannabis is known for, technology is leading the path to ending the guessing games as to dosage and blending of different cannabinoids.

A perfect example of this is CannabisDNA, a saliva-based swab test that evaluates over 70 of an individual’s genetic markers to establish what strains and dosages are most compatible with that person’s physiology. It’s a matter of time before this technology becomes more readily available and consumers will be able to obtain a range of products created with their personalized profile in mind.

In addition to matching cannabis to an individual’s DNA, there are efforts to decode the DNA of the various strains of cannabis, to better clarify important elements like THC, CBD and other cannabinoids like CBC. This last and far more rare cannabinoid has been associated with very strong anti-inflammatory reactions. This kind of deconstruction of cannabinoids at the DNA level will make it easier for producers and manufacturers to create products that address specific needs, both medical and recreational.

Purchasing power

Boutique dispensaries are popping up to make the more mainstream consumer comfortable. And thanks in part to the recent pandemic, online purchasing has jumped, with apps and websites being developed for purchasing and shipping just the right product, any time. 

Ads for CBD products online regularly perform very well

As has occurred in other areas of agriculture, there is a push towards transparency on product provenance and growth methods, so that the end consumer can make choices about what they are putting into their bodies, with as much information as possible. Field to dispensary tracking is on the table as a method to keep consumers educated and informed, which ultimately improves the connection between producers and consumers. 

Add to these ideas the fact that there are serious improvements in packaging being developed, which allow buds to remain fresh and full of flavor by eliminating light, air and moisture, while still remaining child proof. This is all part of the evolution of the cannabis industry, with a view to keeping customers happy and interested in the product.

Technology within the cannabis industry isn’t an end in itself: after all, the most important part of the effort is the growth of the plants themselves. But technology can change the evolution of the industry in ways that make it more interesting for everyone, from the grower, to the manufacturer of products, the dispensary owner and the consumer as well.

Cannabis Manufacturing Considerations: From Raw Materials to Finished Goods

By David Vaillencourt, Kathleen May
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Facility layout and design are important components of overall operations, both in terms of maximizing the effectiveness and efficiency of the process(es) executed in a facility, and in meeting the needs of personnel. Prior to the purchase of an existing building or investing in new construction, the activities and processes that will be conducted in a facility must be mapped out and evaluated to determine the appropriate infrastructure and flow of processes and materials. In cannabis markets where vertical integration is the required business model, multiple product and process flows must be incorporated into the design and construction. Materials of construction and critical utilities are essential considerations if there is the desire to meet Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) compliance or to process in an ISO certified cleanroom. Regardless of what type of facility is needed or desired, applicable local, federal and international regulations and standards must be reviewed to ensure proper design, construction and operation, as well as to guarantee safety of employees.

Materials of Construction

The materials of construction for interior work surfaces, walls, floors and ceilings should be fabricated of non-porous, smooth and corrosive resistant surfaces that are easily cleanable to prevent harboring of microorganisms and damage from chemical residues. Flooring should also provide wear resistance, stain and chemical resistance for high traffic applications. ISO 22196:2011, Measurement Of Antibacterial Activity On Plastics And Other Non-Porous Surfaces22 provides a method for evaluating the antibacterial activity of antibacterial-treated plastics, and other non-porous, surfaces of products (including intermediate products). Interior and exterior (including the roof) materials of construction should meet the requirements of ASTM E108 -11, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Covering7, UL 790, Standard for Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings 8, the International Building Code (IBC) 9, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 11, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and other applicable building and safety standards, particularly when the use, storage, filling, and handling of hazardous materials occurs in the facility. 

Utilities

Critical and non-critical utilities need to be considered in the initial planning phase of a facility build out. Critical utilities are the utilities that when used have the potential to impact product quality. These utilities include water systems, heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), compressed air and pure steam. Non-critical utilities may not present a direct risk to product quality, but are necessary to support the successful, compliant and safe operations of a facility. These utilities include electrical infrastructure, lighting, fire detection and suppression systems, gas detection and sewage.

  1. Water
Microbial monitoring methods can include frequent/consistent testing

Water quality, both chemical and microbial, is a fundamental and often overlooked critical parameter in the design phase of cannabis operations. Water is used to irrigate plants, for personnel handwashing, potentially as a component in compounding/formulation of finished goods and for cleaning activities. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter 1231, Water for Pharmaceutical Purposes 2, provides extensive guidance on the design, operation, and monitoring of water systems. Water quality should be tested and monitored to ensure compliance to microbiological and chemical specifications based on the chosen water type, the intended use of the water, and the environment in which the water is used. Microbial monitoring methods are described in USP Chapter 61, Testing: Microbial Enumeration Tests 3and Chapter 62, Testing: Tests for Specified Microorganisms 4, and chemical monitoring methods are described in USP Chapter 643, Total Organic Carbon 5, and Chapter 645, Water Conductivity 6.Overall water usage must be considered during the facility design phase. In addition to utilizing water for irrigation, cleaning, product processing, and personal hygiene, water is used for heating and cooling of the HVAC system, fogging in pest control procedures and in wastewater treatment procedures  A facility’s water system must be capable of managing the amount of water required for the entire operation. Water usage and drainage must meet environmental protection standards. State and local municipalities may have water usage limits, capture and reuse requirements and regulations regarding runoff and erosion control that must also be considered as part of the water system design.

  1. Lighting

Lighting considerations for a cultivation facility are a balance between energy efficiency and what is optimal for plant growth. The preferred lighting choice has typically been High Intensity Discharge (HID) lighting, which includes metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS) bulbs. However, as of late, light-emitting diodes (LED) systems are gaining popularity due to increased energy saving possibilities and innovative technologies. Adequate lighting is critical for ensuring employees can effectively and safely perform their job functions. Many tasks performed on the production floor or in the laboratory require great attention to detail. Therefore, proper lighting is a significant consideration when designing a facility.

  1. HVAC
urban-gro
Proper lighting is a significant consideration when designing a facility.

Environmental factors, such as temperature, relative humidity (RH), airflow and air quality play a significant role in maintaining and controlling cannabis operations. A facility’s HVAC system has a direct impact on cultivation and manufacturing environments, and HVAC performance may make or break the success of an operation. Sensible heat ratios (SHRs) may be impacted by lighting usage and RH levels may be impacted by the water usage/irrigation schedule in a cultivation facility. Dehumidification considerations as described in the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) Committee Blog: An Introduction to HVACD for Indoor Plant Environments – Why We Should Include a “D” for Dehumidification 26 are critical to support plant growth and vitality, minimize microbial proliferation in the work environment and to sustain product shelf-life/stability. All of these factors must be evaluated when commissioning an HVAC system. HVAC systems with monitoring sensors (temperature, RH and pressure) should be considered. Proper placement of sensors allows for real-time monitoring and a proactive approach to addressing excursions that could negatively impact the work environment.

  1. Compressed Air

Compressed air is another, often overlooked, critical component in cannabis operations. Compressed air may be used for a number of applications, including blowing off and drying work surfaces and bottles/containers prior to filling operations, and providing air for pneumatically controlled valves and cylinders. Common contaminants in compressed air are nonviable particles, water, oil, and viable microorganisms. Contaminants should be controlled with the use appropriate in-line filtration. Compressed air application that could impact final product quality and safety requires routine monitoring and testing. ISO 8573:2010, Compressed Air Specifications 21, separates air quality levels into classes to help differentiate air requirements based on facility type.

  1. Electrical Infrastructure

Facilities should be designed to meet the electrical demands of equipment operation, lighting, and accurate functionality of HVAC systems. Processes and procedures should be designed according to the requirements outlined in the National Electrical Code (NEC) 12, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) 13, National Electrical Safety Code (NESC) 14, International Building Code (IBC) 9, International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 15 and any other relevant standards dictated by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ).

  1. Fire Detection and Suppression

“Facilities should be designed so that they can be easily expanded or adjusted to meet changing production and market needs.”Proper fire detection and suppression systems should be installed and maintained per the guidelines of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 11, International Building Code (IBC) 9, International Fire Code (IFC) 10, and any other relevant standards dictated by the Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ). Facilities should provide standard symbols to communicate fire safety, emergency and associated hazards information as defined in NFPA 170, Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols 27.

  1. Gas detection

Processes that utilize flammable gasses and solvents should have a continuous gas detection system as required per the IBC, Chapter 39, Section 3905 9. The gas detection should not be greater than 25 percent of the lower explosive limit/lower flammability limit (LEL/LFL) of the materials. Gas detection systems should be listed and labeled in accordance with UL 864, Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems 16 and/or UL 2017, Standard for General-Purpose Signaling Devices and Systems 17 and UL 2075, Standard for Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors 18.

Product and Process Flow

Product and process flow considerations include flow of materials as well as personnel. The classic product and process flow of a facility is unidirectional where raw materials enter on one end and finished goods exit at the other. This design minimizes the risk of commingling unapproved and approved raw materials, components and finished goods. Facility space utilization is optimized by providing a more streamlined, efficient and effective process from batch production to final product release with minimal risk of errors. Additionally, efficient flow reduces safety risks to employees and an overall financial risk to the organization as a result of costly injuries. A continuous flow of raw materials and components ensures that supplies are available when needed and they are assessable with no obstructions that could present a potential safety hazard to employees. Proper training and education of personnel on general safety principles, defined work practices, equipment and controls can help reduce workplace accidents involving the moving, handling, and storing of materials. 

Facilities Management

Facilities management includes the processes and procedures required for the overall maintenance and security of a cannabis operation. Facilities management considerations during the design phase include pest control, preventative maintenance of critical utilities, and security.

Damage from whiteflies, thrips and powdery mildew could be prevented with an appropriate PCP

A Pest Control Program (PCP) ensures that pest and vermin control is carried out to eliminate health risks from pests and vermin, and to maintain the standards of hygiene necessary for the operation. Shipping and receiving areas are common entryways for pests. The type of dock and dock lever used could be a welcome mat or a blockade for rodents, birds, insects, and other vermin. Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) should define the procedure and responsibility for PCP planning, implementation and monitoring.

Routine preventative maintenance (PM) on critical utilities should be conducted to maintain optimal performance and prevent microbial and/or particulate ingress into the work environment. Scheduled PMs may include filter replacement, leak and velocity testing, cleaning and sanitization, adjustment of airflow, the inspection of the air intake, fans, bearings and belts and the calibration of monitoring sensors.

In most medical cannabis markets, an established Security Program is a requirement as part of the licensing process. ASTM International standards: D8205 Guide for Video Surveillance System 23, D8217 Guide for Access Control System[24], and D8218 Guide for Intrusion Detection System (IDS) 25 provide guidance on how to set up a suitable facility security system and program. Facilities should be equipped with security cameras. The number and location of the security cameras should be based on the size, design and layout of the facility. Additional cameras may be required for larger facilities to ensure all “blind spots” are addressed. The facility security system should be monitored by an alarm system with 24/7 tracking. Retention of surveillance data should be defined in an SOP per the AHJ. Motion detectors, if utilized, should be linked to the alarm system, automatic lighting, and automatic notification reporting. The roof area should be monitored by motion sensors to prevent cut-and-drop intrusion. Daily and annual checks should be conducted on the alarm system to ensure proper operation. Physical barriers such as fencing, locked gates, secure doors, window protection, automatic access systems should be used to prevent unauthorized access to the facility. Security barriers must comply with local security, fire safety and zoning regulations. High security locks should be installed on all doors and gates. Facility access should be controlled via Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) access cards, biometric entry systems, keys, locks or codes. All areas where cannabis raw material or cannabis-derived products are processed or stored should be controlled, locked and access restricted to authorized personnel. These areas should be properly designated “Restricted Area – Authorized Personnel Only”.

Future Expansion

The thought of expansion in the beginning stages of facility design is probably the last thing on the mind of the business owner(s) as they are trying to get the operation up and running, but it is likely the first thing on the mind of investors, if they happen to be involved in the business venture. Facilities should be designed so that they can be easily expanded or adjusted to meet changing production and market needs. Thought must be given to how critical systems and product and process flows may be impacted if future expansion is anticipated. The goal should be to minimize down time while maximizing space and production output. Therefore, proper up-front planning regarding future growth is imperative for the operation to be successful and maintain productivity while navigating through those changes.


References:

  1. United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).
  2. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <1231>, Water for Pharmaceutical Purposes.
  3. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <61>, Testing: Microbial Enumeration Tests.
  4. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <62>, Testing: Tests for Specified Microorganisms.
  5. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <643>, Total Organic Carbon.
  6. United States Pharmacopeia (USP) Chapter <645>, Water Conductivity.
  7. ASTM E108 -11, Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings.
  8. UL 790, Standard for Standard Test Methods for Fire Tests of Roof Coverings.
  9. International Building Code (IBC).
  10. International Fire Code (IFC).
  11. National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
  12. National Electrical Code (NEC).
  13. Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).
  14. National Electrical Safety Code (NESC).
  15. International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).
  16. UL 864, Standard for Control Units and Accessories for Fire Alarm Systems.
  17. UL 2017, Standard for General-Purpose Signaling Devices and Systems.
  18. UL 2075, Standard for Gas and Vapor Detectors and Sensors.
  19. International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE) Good Practice Guide.
  20. International Society for Pharmaceutical Engineers (ISPE) Guide Water and Steam Systems.
  21. ISO 8573:2010, Compressed Air Specifications.
  22. ISO 22196:2011, Measurement Of Antibacterial Activity On Plastics And Other Non-Porous Surfaces.
  23. D8205 Guide for Video Surveillance System.
  24. D8217 Guide for Access Control Syst
  25. D8218 Guide for Intrusion Detection System (IDS).
  26. National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA): Committee Blog: An Introduction to HVACD for Indoor Plant Environments – Why We Should Include a “D” for Dehumidification.
  27. NFPA 170, Standard for Fire Safety and Emergency Symbols.

UT-Arlington and UT-El Paso to Evaluate Phytochrome Manipulation in Hemp

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The Collaborative Laboratories for Environmental Analysis and Remediation (CLEAR) at the University of Texas at Arlington (UT-Arlington) and the University of Texas at El Paso (UT-El Paso) has begun collaborating with Curtis Mathes Grow Lights (CMGL), a subsidiary of the Curtis Mathes Corporation, and the hemp genetics company ZED Therapeutics. The research will involve characterizing the phytochemical effects of phytochrome manipulation using various LED horticultural lights of differing light spectrum, and novel high-yielding varietals of hemp. All of the hemp plants will be grown by renowned geneticists Adam Jacques, Christian West, and Oriah Love of ZED Therapeutics under the CMGL Harvester LED lights at their Oregon facility. Drs. Kevin Schug and Zacariah Hildenbrand will oversee the analysis of the corresponding samples for the expression of terpenes, flavonoids, and other classes of therapeutic compounds. The expression of 15 primary cannabinoid species will be performed concurrently by Matthew Spurlock of ZED Therapeutics.

“Since its inception, CLEAR has focused almost exclusively on improving environmental stewardship in the energy sector. It is nice to now diversify into the horticultural industry to better understand how chemically-diverse plants like hemp respond to different environmental-friendly LED lights,” says Professor Kevin Schug, Shimadzu Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry and co-founder and the Director of CLEAR.

Hemp has recently garnered significant attention in the mainstream media as a result of the medicinal benefits of its primary natural constituent, CBD. The collaboration amongst UT-Arlington, UT-El Paso, CMGL and ZED Therapeutics is designed to better understand how the variable of light can influence the expression of other medicinal elements.

“We are incredibly excited about our growing collaborations with UT-Arlington, UT-El Paso, and ZED Therapeutics,” says CMGL’s COO, Robert Manes, “This particular research exploring phytochrome manipulation in hemp may unlock new lighting protocols whereby the modulation of different wavelengths is associated with the expression of different phytochemical profiles.”

This research also has the potential to discover novel molecules that may be present in the ZED Therapeutic hemp varietals using high-resolution exploratory instruments that are unique to the laboratories of CLEAR, such as Liquid Chromatography Quadrupole Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry (LC-QTOF-MS).

“We are always searching for new ways to expand our genetic catalogue and it will be interesting to see what sort of effects light modulation have on cannabinoid, terpene, and flavonoid expression,” says Adam Jacques of ZED Therapeutics, “Phytochrome manipulation, and any resulting epigenetic effects, is a poorly understood principle of horticulture and we see a significant opportunity with this research to unearth new knowledge.”

“Hemp is a unique plant both in its light spectrum adaptation and the wide range of phytochemicals it can potentially produce,” says Christian West of ZED Therapeutics, “I’ve been waiting my whole career to be a part of this research and having the lighting knowledge of CMGL combined with the analytical power of UT-Arlington and UT-El Paso is priceless in expanding our understanding of the plant.”

Comparable to Organic: How This California Company Aims to Certify Cannabis

By Aaron G. Biros
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Cannabis that contains more than 0.3% THC is not eligible for USDA organic certification, due to the crop’s Schedule I status. While some hemp farmers are currently on the path to obtain a USDA organic certification, the rest of the cannabis industry is left without that ability.

Growers, producers, manufacturers and dispensaries that utilize the same practices as the national organic program should be able to use that to their advantage in their marketing. Ian Rice, CEO of Envirocann, wants to help cannabis companies tap into that potential with what he likes to call, “comparable to organic.”

Ian Rice, CEO of Envirocann & co-founder of SC Labs

Rice co-founded SC Laboratories in 2010, one of the first cannabis testing labs in the world, and helped develop the cannabis industry’s first testing standards. In 2016, Rice and his partners at SC Labs launched Envirocann, a third-party certification organization, focused on the quality assurance and quality control of cannabis products. Through on-site inspections and lab testing, Envirocann verifies and subsequently certifies that best practices are used to grow and process cannabis, while confirming environmental sustainability and regulatory compliance.

“Our backyard in Santa Cruz and the central coast is the birthplace of the organic movement,” says Rice. California Certified Organic Farms (CCOF), founded in Santa Cruz more than 40 years ago, was one of the first organizations in the early 1990s that helped write the national organic program.

“What we came to realize in the lab testing space and as the cannabis market grew, was that a lot of cannabis companies were making the organic claims on their products,” says Rice. “At the time, only one or two organizations in the cannabis space were making an attempt to qualify best practices or create an organic-type feel of confidence among consumers.” What Rice saw in their lab was not cannabis that could be considered organic: “We saw products being labeled as organic, or with certain claims of best practices, that were regularly failing tests and testing positive for banned chemicals. That really didn’t sit well with us.”

Coastal Sun Farms, Enviroganic-certified

At the time, there was no real pathway to certify cannabis products and qualify best practices. “We met with a few people at the CCOF that were very encouraging for us to adopt the national organic program’s standards for cannabis. We followed their lead in how to adopt the standards and apply a certification, building a vehicle intended to certify cannabis producers.”

Because of their background in lab testing they added the requirement for every crop that gets certified to undergo a site inspection, sampling, as well as a pesticide residue test to confirm no pesticides were used at all during the production cycle. One of their clients is Coastal Sun Farms, a greenhouse and outdoor cannabis producer. “They grow incredible products at a high-level, commercial scale at the Enviroganic standard,” says Rice. “They have been able to prove that organic cannabis is economically viable.”

The Envirocann certification goes a bit beyond the USDA’s organic program in helping their clients with downstream supply chain risk management tools (SCRM). “Because of the rigorous testing of products to get certified and go to market, we are getting way ahead of supply chain or production issues,” says Rice. “That includes greater oversight and transparency, not just for marketing the final product.”

A good example of using SCRM to a client’s advantage is in the extraction business. A common scenario recently in the cannabis market involves flower or trim passing the pesticide tests at the lab. But when that flower makes it down the supply chain to a manufacturer, the extraction process concentrates chemical levels along with cannabinoid levels that might have previously been acceptable for flower. “I’ve witnessed millions and millions of dollars evaporate because flower passed, but the concentrated final product did not,” says Rice. “We’ve introduced a tool to get ahead of that decision-making process, looking beyond just a pass/fail. With our partner labs, we look at the chromatograms in greater detail beyond regulatory requirements, which gives us information on trace levels of chemicals we may be looking for. It’s a really rigorous audit on these sites and it’s all for the benefit of our clients.”

Envirocann has also recently added a processing certification for the manufacturing sector and a retail certification for dispensaries. That retail certification is intended to provide consumers with transparency, truth in labeling and legitimate education. The retail certification includes an assessment and audit of their management plan, which goes into details like procurement and budtender education, as well as basic considerations like energy usage and waste management.

Fog City Farms, Envirocann-certified

While Envirocann has essentially adopted the USDA’s organic program’s set of standards for what qualifies organic producers, which they call “Enviroganic,” they also certify more conventional producers with their “Envirocann” certification. “While these producers might not be considered organic farmers, they use conventional methods of production that are responsible and deserve recognition,” says Rice. “A great example for that tier would be Fog City Farms: They are growing indoor with LED lighting and have multiple levels in their indoor environment to optimize efficiency and minimize their impact with waste and energy usage, including overall considerations for sustainability in their business.”

Looking to the future, Ian Rice is using the term “comparable to organic” very intentionally, preparing for California’s roll out of their own organic cannabis program. The California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) is launching the “OCal Comparable-to-Organic Cannabis Program.” Envirocann is obviously using the same language as the CDFA. That’s because Envirocann aims to be one of the verifying agents under the CDFA’s new program. That program will begin on January 1, 2021.

plantsjacques

Optimizing Your LED Spectrum for Leaf Surface Temperature

By Andrew Myers
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plantsjacques

Every detail counts at an indoor grow facility. Indoor growers have complete control over nearly every aspect of their crop, ranging from light intensity to air circulation. Among the most important factors to regulate is temperature. While ambient air temperature is critical, growers will also want to measure leaf surface temperature (LST).

To illustrate, let’s say you keep your living room at a cozy 76 degrees. Then, if you place a thermometer under your tongue – your body is (hopefully) not at 76 degrees but is likely between a healthy temperature of 97 to 99 degrees.

A similar story can be told for cannabis plants grown indoors. A grow facility’s ambient air is often different than the plants’ LST. Finding an ideal LST for plant growth can be complex, but modern technology, including spectrally tunable LED grow lights, can simplify monitoring and maintaining this critical aspect.

Why Should Growers Care About LST?

Temperature plays a pivotal role in plant health. Many biochemical reactions contributing to growth and survival only occur within an ideal temperature range. If temperatures dip or spike dramatically, growers may witness inhibited growth, plant stress or irreversible damage to their crops.

The leaf is among the most important plant structures as it’s where most metabolic processes happen. Therefore, finding an optimum LST can improve growth rate and the production of metabolites such as pigments, terpenes, resins and vitamins.

Because many plants rely on their leaves for survival, it makes sense that leaves have their own temperature regulation system. Evaporation through pores in the leaf – known as stomata – can cool the plant through a process called transpiration. Up to 90% of water absorbed is used for transpiration, while 10% is used for growth.

The efficacy of transpiration is determined by the vapor pressure deficit (VPD), which refers to the relative humidity in the ambient air compared to the relative humidity in the leaf. If relative humidity is low, the VPD can be too high, which may cause plants to have withered, leathery leaves and stunted growth. On the other hand, a low VPD correlates to high relative humidity, and can quickly result in disease and mineral deficiencies. Higher humidity often results in a higher LST as transpiration may not be as effective.

When it comes to LST, growers should follow these basic guidelines:

  • Most cannabis plants’ LST should fall between 72 and 86 degrees – generally warmer than the ambient air.
  • LST varies depending on individual cultivar. For example, plants that have evolved in colder climates can generally tolerate cooler temperatures. The same can be said for those evolved in equatorial or temperate climates.
  • CO2 availability also plays a role in LST; CO2 generally raises the target temperature for photosynthesis.

How Does Light Spectrum Affect LST?

We know that CO2 concentration, specific genetic markers and ambient temperature all play an important role in moderating LST. But another important factor at an indoor grow is light spectrum – especially for those using spectrally tunable LEDs. Growers will want to optimize their light spectrum to provide their crop with ideal conditions.

A combination of red and blue wavelengths is shown to have the greatest impact on photosynthesis and, thus, LST. Photons found along the green and yellow wavelengths may not be absorbed as efficiently and instead create heat.

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Indoor cultivator facilities often use high powered lights that can give off heat

Optimized light spectrums – those with an appropriate balance between red and blue light – create more chemical energy instead of heat, thereby resulting in a lower LST. Using fixtures that are not spectrally tuned for plant growth, on the other hand, can waste energy and ultimately contribute to a higher LST and ambient temperature, negatively affecting plant growth. Consequently, measuring LST doesn’t only indicate ideal growing conditions but also indirectly illustrates the efficiency of your grow lights.

LED fixtures already run at a lower temperature than other lighting technologies, so indoor growers may need to raise the ambient temperature at their grow facilities to maintain ideal LST. Switching to spectrally tuned LEDs may help growers cut down on cooling and dehumidifying costs, while simultaneously improving crop health and productivity.

What’s the Best Way to Measure LST?

There are several tools available for growers to measure LST, ranging from advanced probes to specialty cameras. However, many of these tools provide a reading at a specific point, rather than the whole leaf, leading to some inaccuracies. Temperature can dramatically vary across the leaf, depending if parts are fully exposed to the light or in the shadows.

Investing in a forward-looking infrared camera (FLIR) gives indoor growers a more accurate picture of LST and light efficiency. That being said, growers should not only measure leaves at the top of the plant, but across the middle and bottom of the plant as well. That way, growers receive a complete snapshot of growing conditions and can make changes as needed.

At an indoor grow facility, it’s not enough to only measure ambient room temperature. Of course, this aspect is important, but it will paint an incomplete picture of plant health. Measuring LST gives growers nuanced insights as to how plants respond to their environment and how they can better encourage resilient, healthy growth.

Using spectrally tunable LEDs makes achieving LST easier and more cost-effective. Lights with optimized spectrums for plant growth ensure no energy is wasted – resulting in superior performance and efficiency.

Cannabis Economics & Creating Efficiencies for Profit Margin

By Laura Breit
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News of cannabis glut and falling wholesale prices has been dominating the airwaves of late, despite some recent reports showing that prices are remaining steady. As legalization continues to spread across the nation, the industry is poised to become commoditized, especially in those areas where it has been legal for a longer period of time. Whether specializing in retail cannabis products or industrial hemp, companies in the cannabis industry should be taking note of the sweeping economic implications of a maturing marketplace.

As is true in any industry, rapid growth and significant investments are sometimes followed by a slowdown (think dot-com, but less extreme). There are measures that companies can take in order to avoid negative outcomes, and a step in the right direction includes focusing on the bottom line and planning for future growth. Company leaders need to educate themselves on the competitive landscape and take the long view toward solutions for their operations.

Sounds easy enough, but how do we actually do this? One key step is to pay attention to overall expenses and create efficiencies wherever possible in order to remain competitive. This means that during the facility and systems design phase, all outcomes need to be taken into account. One of the most important – and cost conscious – things to consider is energy usage. Energy Star, the EPA-backed program for energy efficiency, says that facilities can “reduce their energy use by up to 30 percent through low or no-cost measures.” Generally, this means that efficiencies are built-in to the design with energy cost savings and sustainability in mind.

One of the largest energy outputs for a cannabis operation includes the facility’s HVAC and electrical systems. We have found that when clients step back to consider a range of alternatives, they have a more comprehensive base for this important decision. Considering outside factors, such as growth projections and specific goals, cannabis companies can make a more educated decision on the system that will provide the best economic outcome for their business. Often, those that plan ahead and look past the initial system cost, find longer term savings and lower energy usage over time.

A plant in flowering under an LED fixture

As an example, we had a client looking to build an indoor cannabis cultivation operation. They had originally chosen to build their facility with high pressure sodium lighting to save money up front. Because this method of lighting typically has a lower first cost, it appeals to many companies that are starting out and wary of their budget. However, this particular client was poised for growth and looking to make sustainable choices that would impact their bottom line and meet their goals for environmentally sound business practices. We were able to create a model for them to illustrate the long-term benefits of installing LED lighting. This type of lighting allows growers to keep room temperatures higher, without compromising plant health with issues like tip burn. In addition, LED lights are more efficient and reduce the cooling load. This means mechanical systems were able to be downsized reducing first costs, and these systems also consumed less energy, reducing operational costs. Despite a higher first cost of the LED lights, the company ended up saving enough money in the reduced mechanical equipment size, as well as in the reduction of energy use from the lights and the mechanical equipment. The first costs between an HPS system and an LED system were much more comparable than originally expected, and they were able to keep their operational costs to an absolute minimum. This type of scenario has proven true over and over when models are built to show longer-term cost benefits for electrical and HVAC systems, using analysis from an experienced team of designers and engineers.

While the greater economic outlook for the cannabis industry is in flux, a thoughtful approach can help operations avoid negative outcomes. As more and more companies continue to enter the space, investments roll in and supply rises, we will all watch to see if demand will match this growth. Taking note of incremental methods for impacting the bottom line, such as smart HVAC and electrical system selection, can mean the difference between success and failure (and profit margins!) in this turbulent landscape.

Soapbox

Taking the Guesswork out of Horticultural Lighting

By Leora Radetsky
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With 33 states and the District of Columbia having passed laws legalizing marijuana in some form, cannabis cultivation is quickly becoming a booming new business across much of the US. From an energy standpoint, unfortunately, it’s not easy being “green”.

New Frontier Data’s 2018 Cannabis Energy Report found that legal cannabis cultivation in the US consumes approximately 1.1 million megawatt hours of electricity annually – enough to power 92,500 homes or a community the size of Newark, NJ, and accounts for carbon emissions equivalent to that of 92,600 cars. And that consumption is forecasted to increase 162 percent from 2017 to 2022. The report recommended that the industry “evaluate energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies” to nip this challenge in the bud.

Growers seeking to reduce their electricity usage through more efficient lighting face a confusing landscape of options, however. It can be difficult to know what will save electricity and work well for their operations. Technology is advancing quickly and questions abound, from how long a fixture will last and whether a manufacturer’s claims about efficacy are accurate to the effectiveness of various wavelengths for growing a particular plant.

Here’s the good news: there are reliable, third-party lighting and safety standards to help indoor growers make the leap from old-school lighting to state-of-the-art light-emitting diodes (LEDs) that use a fraction of the electricity and are increasingly effective for growing crops from cannabis to tomatoes. Here’s a closer look:

Most lighting fixtures in the North American market go through rigorous inspection by certified third-party testing labs. The first part of the check is for safety – an official UL safety standard tailored for the unique challenges of the greenhouse environment was recently released (UL 8800, the Standard for Horticultural Lighting Equipment and Systems). This standard and similar safety certifications at other major labs address wiring, environmental conditions, ingress protection and worker safety related to prolonged photobiological exposure to the eyes and skin. Growers should always ask a fixture manufacturer about safety certification specifically targeted for horticultural environments.

Next on the standards checklist for horticultural fixtures is performance testing. This often happens at the same labs that do safety testing, but is designed to verify efficacy, output, spectrum and other important performance variables. Commercial labs are certified for specific standards, so that a test on a fixture is repeatable at any other lab certified to the same standard. This performance testing results in a report summarizing items like photosynthetic photon flux (PPF), input power (watts), photosynthetic flux efficacy (PPE, measured in μmol/J or micromoles of photosynthetic photons per joule of electrical input power), and spectral content (flux per nanometer (nm) between 400 and 700 nm).

Then, there are flux maintenance standards (such as IES LM-80 and IES TM-21) that help make sure the photosynthetic light output of LED products degrades at an acceptable rate to make a grower’s investment worthwhile. The testing and calculation methods that go into these standards were painstakingly developed through a consensus of knowledgeable lighting stakeholders. A key difference between general lighting and plant lighting, however, is how flux maintenance is measured and benchmarked – the bar is significantly higher for plants compared to people since their metabolism and growth are dependent on the light spectrum and amount.

A plant in flowering under an LED fixture

What’s described above just scratches the surface of the detailed testing used to determine and communicate performance features for commercial horticultural lighting fixtures. There’s a lot of important information to know, but it takes an informed reader to analyze this information and use it to select appropriate horticultural lighting. Our organization, the DesignLights Consortium (DLC), strives to make the vetting process easier for everyone, freeing up growers to focus on their core business.

In the early days of LED lighting, electric utilities had to compare these different lighting factors and reports to inform their energy efficiency rebate/incentive programs. The DLC was founded to fill this need, serving as a central clearinghouse for setting energy efficiency and other product performance minimum standards, and to evaluate products against those standards. Then and now, lighting products that pass review qualify for an online qualified products list (QPL) that utilities use to quickly and accurately incentivize high-performing products.

Credit: ProGrowTech

With its new minimum performance standards for horticultural light fixtures, the DLC seeks to accelerate the adoption of new energy-saving LED fixtures in controlled agriculture environments. To be on the new DLC Horticultural QPL, an LED fixture must be at least 10 percent more efficacious than the best non-LED alternative – a 1,000-watt double-ended high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixture. It also must have a Q90 of 36,000 hours (the number of hours before the photon flux output depreciates to 90 percent), and its driver and fan (if included) must have a rated life of at least 50,000 hours.

Most importantly, every product is listed online in a searchable, filterable database to help growers and facility designers quickly narrow their options. For example, in a retrofit, a grower might know what PPF is needed from each fixture but might also need to stay within a power budget to avoid rewiring circuits. The DLC’s Horticultural QPL can be filtered to quickly find and compare conforming products.

When a new technology is introduced, there is always uncertainty about how to optimally apply it. The horticultural world is no different. We look forward to research supporting additional predictive metrics that allow us to take advantage of the full benefits of high-performance LED and controls technologies. In the meantime, the established standards described here allow for energy efficient and safe cultivation facilities where growers can confidently produce more with less.

Beyond THC: Encouraging Cannabinoid and Terpene Production with LEDs

By Andrew Myers
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For years, tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) got all the attention. While THC certainly delivers its own benefits (such as relaxation and pain relief), there’s a whole host of other – and often overlooked – compounds found in cannabis with important benefits as well. THC is truly only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cannabis’s potential.

As the cannabis industry evolves with changing consumer tastes and developing medical research, growers may employ techniques to boost cannabinoid and terpene profiles in their harvests – beyond merely focusing on THC. Advanced LEDs allow growers to elicit specific biological responses in cannabis crops, including increased concentrations of these naturally occurring chemical compounds.

The Foundation of Cannabis’s Effects
Whether used medicinally or otherwise, cannabis has changed our society and many of our lives – and there’s a collection of naturally occurring chemical compounds, known as cannabinoids and terpenes, to thank.

  • The cannabinoids THC and CBD are the most common and well-researched, however they are accompanied by more than 200 additional compounds, including cannabinol (CBN), cannabigerol (CBG) and tetrahydrocannabivarin (THCV), among others.
  • The cannabis plant also contains terpenes. These structures are responsible for giving flowers (including cannabis), fruits and spices their distinctive flavors and aromas. Common terpenes include limonene, linalool, pinene and myrcene.

Both cannabinoids and terpenes are found in the cannabis plant’s glandular structures known as trichomes. Look closely, and you’ll notice trichomes coating the cannabis flowers and leaves, giving the plant an almost frosty appearance.

macropistil/trichome
A macro view of the trichomes and pistils on the plant

Trichomes – which are found across several plant species – are a key aspect of a cannabis plant’s survival. The specific combination of metabolites produced by trichomes may attract certain pollinators and repel plant-eating animals. Moreover, trichomes (and specifically THC) may act as the plant’s form of sunscreen and shield the plant from harmful ultraviolet rays.

While they play an essential part in the cannabis plant’s lifecycle, trichomes are volatile and easily influenced by a range of environmental factors, including light, heat, physical agitation and time. Therefore, environment is a defining variable in the development of these important structures.

How LEDs Support Cannabinoid and Terpene Development in Crops
Spectrally tunable LEDs give indoor cannabis growers unparalleled control over their crops. As research has expanded about plants’ responses to the light spectrum, growers have discovered they are able to elicit certain physiological responses in the plant. This phenomenon is called photomorphogenesis. At its root, photomorphogenesis is a survival tactic – it’s how the plant responds to miniscule changes in its environment to increase the chances of reaching full maturity and, eventually, reproducing. While cultivated cannabis plants won’t reproduce at an indoor setting, growers can still use the light spectrum to encourage strong root and stem development, hasten the flowering process and the development of bigger, brightly colored flowers.

It makes sense that using the proper light spectrums may also have an impact on the production of specific cannabinoids and terpenes – an important factor when responding to highly specific consumer needs and desires, both within medical and adult-use markets.

Here are a few more reasons why utilizing full-spectrum LEDs can lead to higher quality cannabis:

  • Lower Heat, but the Same Intensity.
    When compared to HPS, fluorescent and other conventional lighting technologies, LEDs have a much lower heat output, but provide the same level of intensity (and often improved uniformity). This represents an enormous advantage for cannabis cultivators, as the lights can be hung much closer to the plant canopy without burning trichomes than they would be able to with other lighting technologies.
  • UV Light. Cannabinoids and terpenes are part of the cannabis plant’s natural defense mechanism, so it makes sense that lightly stressing plants can boost cannabinoid and terpene numbers. Some studies illustrate an increase in UV-B and UV-A light can lead to richer cannabinoid and terpene profiles.1 It’s a fine line to walk, though – too much UV can result in burned plants, which leads to a noticeable drop in cannabinoids.
  • Full-Spectrum Capabilities. The cannabis plant evolved over millions of years under the steady and reliable light of the sun. Full-spectrum is the closest thing to natural sunlight that growers will be able to find for indoor growing – and they’ve been shown to perform better in terms of cannabinoid development. A 2018 study titled “The Effect of Light Spectrum on the Morphology and Cannabinoid Content for Cannabis Sativa L.,” explored how an optimized light spectrum resulted in increased expression of cannabinoids CBG and THCV.2

This is the most important tip for indoor growers: your plants’ environment is everything. It can make or break a successful harvest. That means cultivators are responsible for ensuring the plants are kept in ideal conditions. Lights are certainly important at an indoor facility, but there are several other factors to consider that can affect your lights’ performance and the potency of your final product. This includes your temperature regulation, humidity, the density of plants within the space, CO2 concentration and many other variables. For the best results, your lights should be fully aligned with other environmental controls in your space. Nothing sabotages a once-promising crop like recurrent issues in the indoor environment.

solsticegrowop_feb
Indoor cultivation facilities often use high powered lights that can give off heat

Cannabinoids and terpenes take time to develop – so cultivators will want to avoid harvesting their plants too early. On the other hand, these compounds begin to degrade over time, so growers can’t wait too long either.

Cultivators seeking potent cannabinoid and terpene profiles must find a happy medium for the best results – and the best place to look is where cannabinoids and terpenes develop: the trichomes. With a microscope, cultivators can get up close and personal with these sparkly structures. Younger plants begin with clear trichomes, which eventually become opaque and change to amber. Once your plants show amber-hued trichomes, they’re ready for harvest.

The truth here is that there’s no perfect formula to elicit show-stopping cannabinoids and dizzying terpenes with every harvest. A lot of cannabis cultivation is based around trial-and-error, finding what works for your space, your business and your team. But understanding the basics around indoor environmental controls like lighting and temperature – and how they can affect the development of cannabinoids and terpenes – is an excellent place to start. Using high quality equipment, such as full-spectrum LED lighting can boost both cannabinoid and terpene production, resulting in richer, more potent and higher quality strains.


References:

  1. Lyndon, John, Teramura, Alan H., Coffman, Benjamin C. “UV-B Radiation Effects on Photosynthesis, Growth and Cannabinoid Production of Two Cannabis Sativa Chemotypes.” August 1987. Photochemistry and photobiology. Web. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1751-1097.1987.tb04757.x?&sid=nlm%3Apubmed
  2. Magagnini G., Grassi G., Kotiranta, S. “The Effect of Light Spectrum on the Morphology and Cannabinoid Content of Cannabis sativa L.” 2018. Medical Cannabis and Cannabinoids. Web: https://www.karger.com/Article/FullText/489030