In this blog post air filtration experts break down the cannabis cultivation process, address key concerns for cannabis producers, and provide tips for protecting cannabis plants and ensuring employee safety.
On October 17th, 2018, Canada legalized cannabis production and consumption for those over the age of 181. Since its legalization, the once taboo image of cannabis has shifted to one that is widely accepted and profitable. In fact, in the past three years that cannabis has become legal, the industry has contributed $17 billion of economic output to the Canadian economy2. Cannabis manufacturers attempt to grow plants to the highest standard, and this process can be quite complex. As such, these manufacturers must take care to protect their processes and people.
What is the Cannabis Cultivation Process in Canada?
The average growth cycle for cannabis is eight to twelve weeks, and producers can choose to operate in three different ways:
- Outdoors, similar to a farm (harvest once a year)
- Greenhouse, similar to some plants and vegetables (harvest four times a year)
- Fully inclosed (harvest six to eight times a year)
The majority of large, publicly traded Canadian cannabis producers do not grow outdoors at all3. As many cannabis consumers favour “bag appeal”, indoor cultivars are quite popular. The concept of bag appeal refers to well-cultivated flowers with ideal combinations of smell and appearance. Strain names can also be very important for consumers who use cannabis for medical purposes. As such, manufacturing cannabis indoors allows for the most control over the final products.
As the first step of the cannabis cultivation process indoors, anywhere from 100-10,000 plants are positioned into dirt pots. Their growth is aided by heat lamps which generate massive heat loads, circular fans, and a high number of air changes per hour (ACH) through the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Once the cultivation process is complete, plants are trimmed, dried, stored and packaged for delivery.
What Are the Key Concerns for Cannabis Producers?
The four main concerns for cannabis producers are: odour control, limiting emissions, cross contamination, and employee safety.
The process of growing cannabis plants creates a strong odour, especially while in the flowering stage. The odour is mainly caused by terpenes, which are hydrocarbons emitted from plants. The terpenes released from cannabis plants are alpha-pinene, beta-pinene, beta-caryophyllene, limonene, and beta-myrcene. Beta-myrcene is what gives cannabis the “skunky” smell. Cannabis growers are graded on this terpene, and therefore attempt to achieve high levels of it. While this odour is anticipated within the facility, neighbours may become easily perturbed. For this reason, odour control is important.
In cannabis production, harmful emissions can be derived from a number of different activities. In part with the odours released from terpenes, counteracting odour masking agents also contain volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Furthermore, the equipment and tools necessary for heating, lighting, and to provide a suitable growing environment for the production of cannabis generate pollutants, sometimes including particulate matter. Air pollution emissions are harmful to our environment, and therefore must be regulated.
The common warehouse grower has thousands of plants inside a large room or multiple rooms, with circular fans stirring up dust. This can rapidly increase the particulate load and create a storm. As the level of particulates increase and circulate around the room through the HVAC system, contamination and dust are spread on virtually every surface. As an outcome of this cross contamination, it is possible that the cannabis’ product quality is affected.
Powdery mildew and botrytis can be released from cannabis plants, which thrive in contaminated environments with humid air and poor circulation. Not only this, but pollen, bud mould, and microbiological contaminants can also contribute to poor indoor air quality (IAQ). Although a strong odour is not a health concern itself, the inhalation of mould spores, allergens, and microbiological contaminants can cause various human health issues.
Why is the Application of High Quality Air Filters Important in Cannabis Cultivation?
To adequately meet the challenges in cannabis cultivation, particle and molecular filtration are both necessary. Particulate filters improve indoor air quality (IAQ) for better consistency in crops and yield maximization. Molecular filtration accounts for the odours generated by the terpenes.
Not only is choosing the right air filters beneficial for the product and staff, it can also bring about other benefits for the manufacturer. Energy consumption is among the top three monthly expenses in cannabis cultivation, with the mechanical system being half of the total energy consumption. By using high quality air filters, energy and cost savings are generated. Furthermore, properly filtered air prevents the growth of microbiological contaminants and creates a healthier environment for plants. In considering these aspects, high quality air filters result in the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) for cannabis cultivation, despite there being a higher upfront cost.
What Products Are Best for Protecting Cannabis Plants and Ensuring Employee Safety?
Depending on the production stage, different filter efficiencies are required. To break this down easily, we offer the following chart:
In most flowering, mother, and veg. rooms, there are four areas in the recirculation unit that allow for a pre filter, final filter, a molecular filter, and HEPA filter.
A pre filter protects the final filter, thereby extending the final filter’s life and preventing frequent and costly filter changeouts. The 30/30 Dual 9 is a MERV 9/9A filter that is composed of a unique proprietary dual-layer blended polyester media enclosed in the industry’s strongest moisture resistant beverage board frame. It is guaranteed to last 12 months in commercial-duty applications and 9 months in industrial-level applications.
As a final filter, the Hi-Flo ES from the Hi-Flo product line has the lowest average pressure drop to ensure the lowest energy cost in the industry. It is available in MERV 11/11A, MERV 13/13A, MERV 14/14A, and MERV 15/15A, meaning there are various options depending on the level of protection required.
To remove gaseous contaminants and ensure employee comfort, a molecular filter should be installed as the third clean air mechanism. The CamCarb CG and CamCarb CM are thin-bed, loose-fill filters. They provide optimum removal of molecular contamination from supply, recirculation, and exhaust air applications. These cylinders can be filled with molecular media, such as Activated Carbon and Impregnated Activated Carbon. These medias target a wide range of adsorbents and trap odorous gases.
To offer the utmost protection, a high efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter can be installed as a final step. The Absolute VG from our Absolute V filter line is a V-bank style Absolute HEPA filter with high surface area, offering low pressure drop for energy savings and longer life.
There are a variety of factors that determine which clean air solutions work best for cannabis cultivation. Be sure to contact an experienced air filtration consultant to find products right for your building.
About Camfil Canada Clean Air Solutions
For more than half a century, Camfil has been helping people breathe cleaner air. As a leading manufacturer of premium clean air solutions, we provide commercial and industrial systems for air filtration and air pollution control that improve worker and equipment productivity, minimize energy use, and benefit human health and the environment. We firmly believe that the best solutions for our customers are the best solutions for our planet, too. That’s why every step of the way – from design to delivery and across the product life cycle – we consider the impact of what we do on people and on the world around us. Through a fresh approach to problem-solving, innovative design, precise process control, and a strong customer focus we aim to conserve more, use less and find better ways – so we can all breathe easier.
The Camfil Group is headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, and has 33 manufacturing sites, six R&D centers, local sales offices in 30 countries, and about 4,800 employees and growing. We proudly serve and support customers in a wide variety of industries and in communities across the world. To discover how Camfil Canada can help you to protect people, processes and the environment, visit us at www.camfil.com/en-ca/.
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