As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, more brands are discovering new technologies to help them grow and create better products for consumers. In order to make it in this competitive and ever-changing industry, marijuana companies need to adapt fast.
From improved environmental control grows and manufacturing to extraction systems and microbial testing, there are a variety of innovative technologies that are improving cannabis production. Cannabis Regulator spoke with experts in each of these fields to give you the scoop on the latest innovations.
Cannabis Lighting Technology
Probably the most important piece of technology a marijuana grower needs is good lighting. Without a proper light fixture, your cannabis will produce low quality yield, which is something no one wants – especially your customers.
When on the lookout for the latest lighting technology, Travis Higginbotham, VP of Cultivation at StateHouse, advises brands to get information from vendors on how efficient the light fixture is at converting electrical energy into photosynthetic energy. This measurement is in micromoles per joule.
“The amount of light that would be exposed in a single day is a difference of 70%, so you can be using the same amount of electricity, but LED lights will produce more light to the plant,” Higginbotham says. “This is because of how efficient the fixture is with converting energy. That’s a key characteristic growers need to be aware of when comparing different fixtures.”
Higginbotham recently announced the Intercanopy Lighting Validation Study group, a research study group that he is spearheading to determine the impact of Flower Direct Cannabis Cultivation (“FDC2”) lighting principles through the application of Grow Light Design, LLC (“GLD”) fixtures.
GLD systems are patented, two-level fixtures that create a cube of light surrounding the crop that can be rotated or tilted to maximize efficiency and photon capture. As crops grow, cultivators can adjust the placement and direction of the light to channel it directly on the crop’s flowers.
This group is currently examining the application of the same daily light integral (“DLI”), a measure of total photosynthetically active radiation “light” plants receive during a 24 hour day, using top lighting alone and top lighting combined with GLD’s system. The goal is to determine each lighting system’s impact on cannabis crop biomass yield, biomass category ratio and finished flower quality, with results expected in late Q3 2023.
“We’re learning that cannabis, unlike other crops, really benefits from light directly on its flower. Other crops wouldn’t benefit from intercanopy lighting, since most plants don’t photosynthesize. But cannabis does, causing the industry to think of more flower-direct approaches with the optimization of the cultivation of cannabis,” Higginbotham notes. “As far as new technology to help growers, intercanopy lighting is gaining significant traction because we can utilize the same energy and distribute it more, ultimately making more yield.”
Environmental Control Technology
Another very important piece of technology that cannabis growers should not leave out is environmental controls. “The environmental controls are the brain that brings together all of the major components of cultivation, such as lighting, air conditioning and dehumidification. Environmental controls tie those things together, so when you get ready to do an irrigation cycle, different sequences can be notified that those things are happening,” Sam Andras, Executive Vice President, Business Development at Urban-Gro, says.
When you think about greenhouse cultivation back in 2013-2014 when the cannabis industry was just starting to bloom, Andras notes that many growers wanted to take advantage of the sun through greenhouses. The only problem with this is that you also need to environmentally control the space, which can be quite difficult without utilizing a lot of electricity.
Greenhouse technology continues to evolve, allowing marijuana growers to environmentally control the space without using a ridiculous amount of energy. Andras says there are different systems that can change the lighting to stop it from getting too hot or cold in the room, as well as manage the air conditioning system where it’s not running all day long.
“Environmental controls allow you to make all of those adjustments, and an investment into a quality system can mean the difference between 45 grams of yield per square foot or 60 grams per square foot, Andras says. “Environmental controls where you have the ability to have an app on your phone and can be notified when something is failing or if the room isn’t properly conditioned is huge. Having that brain that intertwines everything is one of the most critical pieces of the puzzle.”
Cannabis Extraction Technology
Extraction technology has come a long way in the past few years. Today, there are million dollar extraction and chilling systems, as well as high tech vacuum ovens that take out all of the solvents in the products.
“It’s pretty wild to see how far we’ve come,” Carter Latimer, Founder and President of PaperPlanes Extracts, reminisces. “As extractors, we look at the technology available to us, and it’s constantly changing. Throughout the last 12 years, we’ve seen so much innovation in the machinery and equipment categories. Every other year, we find that the closed loop extraction system or the chiller has become obsolete and there is new technology. We have to move with the flow and learn as these new pieces of equipment are coming out.”
Latimer says one of the biggest innovations his company has done is moved away from closed loop extraction systems, which used to include recovery pumps. Originally, when you ran these systems, you needed to move the butane with a pump (usually a pneumatic pump), which was very loud and not that efficient. The maintenance was also very expensive and constant, so the equipment was always being repaired.
“Now, we have new systems that use nitrogen and temperature control, so by utilizing different temperatures on different parts of the system, you can move the gas to where you need it based on your column or recovering condensing tube on the back,” Latimer says. “Being able to have a quiet room and a more efficient system is great as an extraction artist.”
Even though these new technologies can be pretty expensive, ranging to about $150,000 for a new piece of equipment, Latimer says the investment is well worth it and has made the company’s product so much better.
Cannabis Testing Technology
Since the cannabis industry is still very new, there has been a lot of innovation in different technologies, even on the testing side. The strict regulatory compliances have given the industry the ability to make significant advancements. And Milan Patel, CEO and Co-founder of PathogenDx, has seen it all.
PathogenDx is a U.S.-based biotechnology company. Its AOAC-certified microarray testing platform has been adopted into over 120 labs across 33 states.
“With our technology, you no longer have to wait three-to-five days for testing results,” Patel says. “Now, you have the opportunity to take a sample from a cultivator, put it in a broth where it sits and promotes growth of any kind of bad bacteria or fungus, and test it. We have a more targeted technology where within six-to-eight hours after the sample comes in, we have the answer.”
PathogenDx’s automated testing platform, Octa, is bringing the cannabis sector closer to the level of efficacy and standardization required of labs in mainstream industries. According to Patel, one of the biggest challenges his company has seen is that lab technicians don’t want to work, and they are therefore seeing less human interaction. Because the price of the product is dropping, the cost of the testing has to then follow suit and drop.
“What we’ve done is implemented an automated process where you can put the flower in and after 30 minutes, you will have a live sample. That’s allowed us to get more consistent in testing, meaning more reliable results, and cut down on labor time and costs.”
Cannabis Production Technology
As oil and dab preferences evolve, more consumers are moving to rosin and thicker oils. BOLD Carts is keeping up with this demand by constantly evolving their technology to deliver premium vape cartridges, batteries and hardware to extractors, processors and growers.
“When you look at the cannabis oil space, from distillate to live resin, they’re very much different,” Bill Rinehart, CEO of BOLD Carts, says. “Our technology allows them to be consumed in the manner they were made. Technology has allowed us to dial in those customized features, such as temperature, so customers can get the best experience.”
Rinehart notes that part of this technology innovation is moving beyond the “one cart fits all” take. In many cases, customers can end up with burnt oil before they can consume the entire amount that they bought due to the temperature. Leaks are also a huge problem in the industry, which BOLD Carts continues to work on. Currently, they have the least amount of leakage from their cartridges industry-wide.
More technology and innovations in the cannabis industry continue to come out each year. The more we learn about marijuana, the better the technology will get, creating better products for consumers everywhere.