Marijuana is largely thought of as an agricultural industry serving medical and recreational consumers. But that image belies the technological advances that are revolutionizing every sector of cannabis.
In this issue, we look at “10 Killer Technologies” in the marijuana space. Not the “10 Best Technologies,” but engineering feats that represent the spirit of innovation, high-level science and entrepreneurship sweeping through today’s marijuana industry. Many companies could have made this list.
“Cannabis is still a new industry that’s just getting out of the shadows, so people see there’s huge potential to develop all sorts of new technologies,” said Meghan Larson, co-founder of Adistry, one of the companies featured here.
Selections were made to represent the main marijuana market sectors—from cultivation and extraction to manufacturing and retail.
Some of these companies are established and growing, while others are upstart ventures. Some of the technologies were created by cannabis industry veterans, while others come courtesy of non-cannabis businesses. Indeed, the marijuana industry is drawing a growing number of Ph.D.-carrying professionals who have worked at places such as NASA and MIT and now want to lend their expertise to an industry that, from scientific and technological standpoints, remains largely unexplored.
The advances profiled in the following pages represent a sampling of the innovative technologies that are transforming the cannabis industry.
Where: Los Alamos, New Mexico
Product UbiGro® is a quantum-dot film that converts sunlight into the red-orange spectrum light that plants crave when flowering. The light also helps increase yield.
Target Market: Cultivators
Price: A company spokesman declined to quote a cost but said it is significantly cheaper than the roughly $100 per square foot that some greenhouses spend on under-canopy lighting.
Cannabis growers often use expensive LED lights to bathe plants in the red-orange light spectrum that triggers flowering and boosts production. UbiQD has harnessed quantum dots—tiny particles of semiconductors like those used in computer chips and solar cells—to create UbiGro. The quantum dots are made into an inklike substance that is injected between two sheets of plastic film, which are then attached to the sides and roof of a greenhouse. The film does the same thing as lights but at a much lower cost and smaller environmental footprint, according to UbiQD chief scientist Damon Hebert. The red light also helps increase THC production by 5% and terpene production by 14%, Hebert said.
Quantum dots have been used in other industries but not agriculture. Most quantum dots developed so far feature a cadmium base, which is sensitive to ultraviolet light and inclement weather and, thus, loses effectiveness.
UbiQD’s breakthrough was developing copper-based quantum dots, which can withstand intense light and bad weather and be used in agriculture.
The company has installed UbiGro for five vegetable growers in New Mexico and has a NASA contract to create film for growing crops in space. UbiQD has pilots in two cannabis greenhouses in Colorado and one in Oregon and plans more pilots this year. The cannabis pilots have seen 10% yield increases, Hebert said.
Hebert declined to quote a cost but said UbiGro is significantly cheaper than the roughly $100 per square foot that some greenhouses spend on under-canopy lighting.
“If we can realize a 5%-10% yield improvement, that’s a return on investment of three months to six months,” Hebert said.
Hebert said UbiGro’s current plastic film will last five years, but he plans to develop a model using glass sheets that will last 20 years. The ultimate goal is to have the quantum dots installed in greenhouse glass or polyurethane, to make “a creme de la creme of greenhouse glass.”
Hunter McDaniel, PhD
Founder & CEO
Hunter earned a Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, before joining Los Alamos National Laboratory in the Chemistry Division. Ultimately the value proposition of UbiGro is about boosting crop yields and quality without the cost or energy impact of lighting. Hunter has more than fifty publications and patents, and more than 2000 total citations, h-index: 20. Hunter fundamentally believes that novel materials underpin every significant technology advancement, and he is focused on leveraging new materials to have a lasting and sustainable impact.
Damon Hebert, PhD
Director of Agriculture
Damon brings a wide range of experience in agriculture, materials science, spectroscopy, and small business. During his time in Prof. Angus Rockett’s research group at The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC), Hebert authored a doctoral thesis and multiple papers on the materials science of CIGS semiconductor materials, which is closely related to the materials developed at UbiQD. He also served as a consultant to Nanosolar, a CIGS nanocrystal solar cell manufacturing company. Hebert has industry experience having co-founded Dr. Jolly’s, a leading cultivation and distribution operation in Bend, OR.
Tania is a UbiGro Sales Representative, with over 7 years of experience in product sales (specifically berries and avocados) covering all of North America and parts of South America. While in agriculture, Tania has cultivated strong relationships with growers and distributors, granting her a unique insight into both perspectives. That understanding, paired with her fierce dedication to results, drives her fun and fiery commitment to her craft. Tania is based in Gilroy, CA.
Charles earned a Bachelor’s in Biological Engineering from North Carolina State University and a Master’s in Biosystems Engineering from The University of Arizona Controlled Environment Agriculture Center. Advised by Dr. Gene Giacomelli, Charles conducted his thesis on the “Optimization of Spectral Quality with Quantum Dots to Enhance Crop Yield in Controlled Environments.” Charles has a decade of biological engineering, greenhouse technology, and molecular biology experience from lab to production scale including working with the Vegetable Production System (Veggie) at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. He brings his experience in hydroponics, controlled environment systems design, photobiology, greenhouse engineering, and scientific outreach.
Jim Gideon is an UbiGro Sales Manager, with over 25 years of greenhouse industry sales experience covering all of North America. Previously Jim has worked for Green Tek, Plazit-Polygal, Texel, Cherry Creek, and Nexus. He is based in Montgomery, AL, and Jim believes that “light is everything to the grower.”
Director of Sales
Eric Moody is UbiQD’s Director of UbiGro Sales. Eric has more than 6 years of experience in horticulture lighting industry, building relationships with greenhouse growers of all sizes and crops on optimal lighting for their growing operation, and most recently managed a North American sales team for PL Light Systems. Overall, Eric has been in sales leadership positions for more than 13 years. Eric brings with him a great understanding of the market and available technologies for growers, greenhouse facilities, and sales leadership. Reach Eric by phone at 541-490-6421 or by email at [email protected].
Mike Burrows, PhD
Dr. Michael Burrows is UbiQd’s Vice President of Business Development. His educational background includes a Materials Science doctorate from the University of Delaware and an MBA from Duke University Fuqua School of Business. His career has specialized in the commercialization of novel electronic materials in venture-run programs for different industries including solar, biosensors, and the automotive industry. In both start-up and corporate environments, he has extensive experience in global market development, foraging supply chain partnerships, productization, and brand building. He is currently leading UbiQD’s partnership efforts in luminescent greenhouse technology, smart windows, and security ventures.
Matt Bergern, PhD
Cheif Product Officer
As Chief Product Officer at UbiQD, Dr. Matt Bergren leads the company’s product development efforts, sales, and product manufacturing, including the company’s first commercial agriculture product, UbiGro. He plays a critical role in continuing the company’s path of technology development and vision of powering product innovations in agriculture, clean energy, and security.
He serves as the principal investigator for UbiQD’s contract with NASA, focused on tailoring the solar spectrum for enhanced crop production for space missions. Dr. Bergren’s leadership experience includes serving on the board of directors for the New Mexico Energy Manufacturing Institute, focused on job creation in New Mexico’s energy, and related manufacturing community.