Chris Treville Co-founder of Growex recently told Cannabis Tech, “We control every cubic inch of the space with digital precision.” And it’s true: Growex is designing a new kind of indoor cultivation space by combining gas-tight facilities with energy-efficient and smart technologies. Effectively creating a contamination-free grow house built with an unprecedented focus on sustainability, advanced indoor-ag technologies are needed in today’s world of “hyper-farming,” as Treville calls it.
Conventional greenhouses and indoor cultivation spaces may employ advanced techniques, but they are still fighting the same battles with pests, contamination, and inefficient energy use.
Growex is marketing itself as the solution to the most common issues in the industry. They are launching into cannabis in a big way, with their first turnkey facility coming online in April. This facility is the first of its kind incorporating efficient and gas-tight building envelopes with total environmental control and the best in irrigation and lighting.
MOVING FROM FRUITS TO CANNABIS, AND BACK AGAIN
Why move into cannabis? Treville, the Managing Director and commercial director in agricultural technologies, explained that the technologies formerly used with fruits and vegetables have direct applications for indoor cannabis cultivation.
Growex originally worked within more conventional indoor ag-industries—think apples, strawberries and lettuce. Through StoreX and ChilleX and several other sister companies, they developed technology delivering total atmospheric control for farmers wishing to store their fresh produce for longer. By regulating all aspects of the environment, including temperature, humidity, CO2, oxygen, nitrogen, ethylene, and ethanol, Growex could extend the lifespan of a freshly harvested fruit or vegetable until the farmer was ready to take it to market.
As the cannabis industry got underway in places like Colorado, the possible benefits of a gas-tight chamber were clear. Facilities, including both greenhouses and indoor spaces, wage a constant battle against pests, contamination, and odor. Treville and the team began thinking about a way to encapsulate entire facilities within one of these environmentally regulated “bubbles” created for more conventional crops.
Soon, Growex was in discussions with leading industrial horticultural engineers to pull the most efficient and advanced cultivation technologies together under one roof and plugged into their patent-pending atmospheric controls. Their turnkey designs combine LED lighting, water-saving technologies, and total climatic control into a novel approach to sustainable indoor cultivation.
Yet, cannabis isn’t the end goal. As Treville told Cannabis Tech, it has always been a test subject for Growex’s integrated high-tech cultivation facilities. Treville explains that, eventually, they plan to apply their lessons in cannabis into other crops, like leafy greens and berries.
AN INDUSTRY THAT NEEDS SUSTAINABILITY, WHETHER IT KNOWS IT OR NOT
Despite what brands say at industry conventions and expos, Treville isn’t convinced the industry is truly focused on improving its environmental impact. In his opinion, profits are king. So long as profits are high, sustainability will remain a much-lesser concern for most commercial growers.
Yet, with prices per pound bottoming out in established markets like Colorado and soon Canada, growers will need to stop the bleed somehow. Treville expects spaces will begin to turn their attention to energy, water, and land use as areas with massive potential for cost savings.
Cannabis is a greedy crop with substantial energy and water requirements, especially if grown indoors. Treville revealed, “As cannabis or hemp become hyper-farmed, which that’s [where] it looks like it is going to go worldwide, we should have some concern about the water going to feed this green foliage.” Producers need to reevaluate their energy and water demands and not just to improve their public image. Reducing consumption can have substantial financial benefits as well and get that edge over competitors in a crowded marketplace.
Treville gave the example of the natural water expiration from cannabis. If plants lose 97 percent of their water through evaporation from their leaves, that is a significant drain on resources. In a totally encapsulated facility, Growex makes it possible to capture and recirculate that expired water. Meaning, a Growex facility uses up to 20 times less water than a conventional operation.
Combined with laser and LED lighting and vertical farming technologies, the entire GrowEx facility is on track to become one of the most sustainable cultivation spaces in the country. Treville acknowledges their controlled atmosphere farms will use 50 percent less energy within a 10x smaller area than their competitors. That means a massive financial advantage in energy, water, land, and even labor.
THE NEW GROWEX FACILITY IS AN EXPERIMENT IN PROFITABILITY AND SUSTAINABILITY
With the new Growex cannabis cultivation space set to launch in April, Treville expects hard data by the end of the summer. The company is dead-set on tweaking the atmosphere, including oxygen, CO2, and other gas levels, as a means to speed up growth cycles and improve canopy coverage.
To do this with digital precision, they are working on optimizing protocols by introducing an AI component into their package. AI would allow Growex to grow based on a smart algorithm to “create more logic from a computer as opposed to a human interaction,” as Treville detailed.
AI, layered on top of a contamination-proof facility with highly sustainable growing practices, is a new way forward for cannabis cultivation. Producers applying this turnkey GMP-EU and pharma-grade cultivation solution can expect energy savings, better canopy development, consistent quality at each harvest, and near-zero risk for insect or pathogen contamination. Will this be the new age of commercial cultivation?