How to Minimize Air Pollution While Growing Cannabis

As the medical marijuana, recreational marijuana and CBD markets each grow into multi-billion dollar industries, the demand for cannabis is at an all-time high — and canny entrepreneurs across the country are starting commercial cannabis grow operations in earnest. However, institutions like the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) are studying the potential effects of cannabis farms on air pollution and finding worrying results.

Aurora, Colorado, which is the second most popular locality in the nation for commercial cannabis farming operations, currently has the country’s 8th worst air quality according to the American Lung Association. The CDPHE asserts that this has much to do with cannabis farms and their output of what are known as volatile organic compounds, or VOCs.

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What are VOCs, and why are they a problem?

VOCs are naturally released by a wide range of plant life, and are generally harmless on their own. An example of well-known VOCs are terpenes, which are present in everything from lavender to black peppercorns. The terpene profiles of different cannabis strains give them their respective identities, like the Lime OG strain which is incredibly popular among consumers.

The problem with VOCs occurs when they combine with combustion gases and become harmful to the ozone. Cannabis farms are commonly positioned along stretches of highway, with frequent car traffic through all times of day. This makes them uniquely problematic, as unlike other VOC-emitting plants like lavender, they are positioned to release VOCs en masse to combine with automobile exhaust and produce air pollution.

We can’t alter the release of VOCs in agriculturally and industrially-grown crops like marijuana at present, but there are ways farmers can offset these emissions with the use of environmentally-friendly alternatives to onsite operations. In this post, we go over three important examples of how cannabis farms can reduce or counter their own VOC emissions with little to no impact on productivity.

Strategic Positioning of Cannabis Farms Using Road Hierarchy

The first and most obvious step that can be taken to reduce the harmful interaction of VOCs produced by cannabis farms with motor vehicle exhaust is to position them along less traffic-intensive roads. The current road hierarchy within the United States and Canada is as follows:

  • Freeways are categorized as interstate or intercity roads, limited access roads and on- and off-ramps.
  • Arterial roads are designed to accommodate plenty of traffic throughout the day, and are subdivided into minor and major arterials for urban and rural areas respectively.
  • Collector roads are the convergence points for local roads, ultimately distributing local street traffic to different arterials.
  • Local roads carry low traffic volume and can typically be found in residential areas or specialized districts. In rural areas, these are sometimes unpaved depending on budgetary constraints or development timelines.

Cannabis-friendly states like California, Oregon and Colorado would benefit from the creation of more specialized farming counties and districts, where cannabis farms are positioned along local roads connected to a single collector a respectable distance away. This would prevent anything other than essential traffic, such as transport or supply vehicles to and from the farms themselves, from being in frequent proximity to the VOCs produced by onsite crops.

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Use of Biofuels in Tractors, Tillers & Other Onsite Utility Vehicles

Continuing on from the concept of using road hierarchy in positioning cannabis farms: the risk of VOC conversion from approaching transport or supply vehicles could be further diminished if they were either electric vehicles (EVs) or made use of currently available biofuels.

This also applies to utility vehicles operated onsite, such as tractors, diggers and tillers, all of whose emissions are in contact with VOCs far more often than those from logistics vehicles.

Green Energy to Power Onsite Machine Processes

While they may not yet have the output specifications to effectively power entire farms, solar panels can provide ample energy for common onsite machine processes, such as the extraction of cannabinoids and terpenes to make isolates or the wet-mixing of hemp hurds to make hempcrete.

Depending on the products onsite facilities are purposed to manufacture, the use of green energy could be feasible for several farms across the country that haven’t already made the switch.

Why Passive Homes Will Be the Future of Home Building

As individuals and companies alike begin to consider more sustainable building options, Passive Homes are an excellent solution. Referred to as “Passivhaus” in German, this construction concept focuses on airtight insulation to create a living space that does not require additional heating or cooling.

Developed in the 1970s, developers have incorporated the PassivHaus design in homes all over the world and in a variety of climates. As an affordable, eco-friendly and versatile construction solution, these homes will play an essential role in the future of homebuilding.

Affordable

Professionals often regard eco-friendly building solutions as too expensive. While construction costs for passive homes can cost 5 to 10% more upfront than a traditional build, these fees are negligible compared to future savings. As sustainable options become standard, these costs may drop. Passive Homes rely on design principles that promote peak energy efficiency without external systems.

With a focus on proper insulation and minimizing air leakage, homeowners can save on conventional heating costs without needing to invest in expensive forms of renewable energy. While solar panels or other types of eco-friendly power are popular, because of the efficiency of the Passive House, their usage is minimal.

Adaptable

People build Passive Houses all over the globe in a variety of climates. The five main principles of passive homebuilding are versatile and can be altered depending on the environment. The airtight construction utilizes proper heat balance, ensuring that warm air remains inside in cooler climates, and properly ventilates in warmer ones.

Another nice feature of Passive Home construction is the ability to modify each project aesthetically. Unlike other forms of sustainable building, such as straw bale homes or shipping containers, professionals can construct Passive Homes using a variety of eco-friendly building materials. This style does not limit builders to certain architectural styles. Because supplies can vary, many homeowners choose to add to the overall sustainability of their homes by using post-consumer building materials.

Eco-Friendly

Passive Homes are eco-friendly by design. In Europe, it’s the standard building practice of the future. According to The Resolution of the European Parliament, its implementation will be mandatory in new home construction by all member states in 2021.

The elements of Passive Homes are sustainable by default and do not require relying on alternative energy systems for primary energy. The standard principles are the result of research at the Passive House Institute, and include:

  • Airtight structures
  • Double and triple-insulated windows
  • Continuous insulation
  • Thermal sealing
  • Air quality management

Passive Home design principles do not rely on renewables as a primary source of energy, focusing instead on insulation and passive solar to maximize heat efficiency. They’re also the most affordable way to achieve zero-carbon, resulting in energy savings of up to 90% compared to conventional energy systems.

Passive Building for the Future

Passive Home design incorporates efficient ventilation, heat recovery and super insulation to create a high-quality structure that is not only efficient but also extremely comfortable. A contractor can adapt these buildings to any climate or design preference. While Passive Homes are already a standard — and future mandated — construction in Europe, they’re also becoming more popular in the United States.

Thanks to a U.S. Department of Energy “Building America” Grant, the PassivHaus Institute established new building standards that take into account market and climate variables throughout North America, including comfort and performance.

Any architect or contractor can easily utilize the Passive Home style, and the building standards are available via online distribution. As consumers and developers look towards a more sustainable and eco-friendly future, this style of building should be at the forefront of construction.