UK medical cannabis cultivator Glass Pharms has officially completed the construction of its 2.4 hectare ‘state-of-the-art’ carbon negative cultivation facility just nine months after construction began.
With its products now set to enter the UK medical cannabis supply chain in a matter of months, Glass Pharms says it hopes to disrupt not just the UK market, but the way in which cannabis growers approach sustainability in a notoriously carbon-intensive industry.
Glass Pharms’ Mark Heley told Business of Cannabis: “A lot of people are using dirty processes and then making their business more sustainable by offsetting, what we’re doing is building something that has genuine circular economics built in.”
In December 2021, the company secured £22.5m in funding to build its facility, following two years of research growing to nail down its strategy.
This investment, according to Mr Heley, was secured in a large part due to the company’s focus on sustainability and innovation in terms of reducing its carbon footprint.
“To find the right kind of investors in the UK for major CapEx spend… you’ve got to look at these issues.
“And that’s why we were able to get the support of our investors from an environmental infrastructure investment fund. It’s a very different type of funding, and it’s based on the innovations we’re doing in this space.
“They looked at the 15-year plan that we have in terms of how we’re using the energy, water and resources within the facility. That’s why we were able to attract the right funders.”
Glass Pharms broke ground on its facility in October 2022, a month after announcing that it had partnered with specialist greenhouse manufacturers Kubo to build its growing facility, while Askam Civil Engineering was brought in to construct the its ‘substantial service building’.
“Bringing all of these elements of the project together has been an interesting challenge,” Mr Heley added.
The greenhouse space is designed specifically to minimise energy use, and its height is ‘unusually high’ compared to conventional glass houses. This extra height helps Glass Pharms facilitate a ‘laminar flow’ air current.
“There’s a laminar flow up from the ground through the plants. This is actually really good for controlling for any microbial contamination because you’re not blowing across the plants, you’re basically blowing through them.
“There’s a climate chamber at one end of the greenhouse where the air is conditioned using high-pressure fogging and other proprietary technology. We control all the variables that basically allow us to really dial in humidity.
“We have a patent pending on this process. We’re doing a lot of innovation within space and we’re doing a lot of things which haven’t been done before with this kind of infrastructure.”
The facility also has no traditional HVAC system (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning), but instead uses absorption chillers or heat exchangers to cool the greenhouse, reportedly saving around ‘1 megawatt per hectare’.
All the power and heating is produced by an anaerobic digestion plant, while rainwater is collected in tanks on the roof of the facility, treated, and kept in use throughout the building in a closed-loop system.
Glass Pharms is now in commercial production, and following 16 trial harvests in 2023 is ‘anticipating products to be available to UK patients’ in Q1 this year, offering a variety of balanced and high THC cultivars with differing terpene profiles.
While it did not disclose any details of deals in place, Mr Heley said the company has ‘very substantive interest right across the sector’.
Initially, the company will focus on the UK market, specifically ‘solving for of out of stock issues with UK patients’.
With the UK medical cannabis market continuing to grow at pace, it remains overwhelmingly reliant on imports from abroad, leading to frequent issues in the sustainability of supply, seeing patients unable to reliably access the particular products they’ve found to work for them.
“We believe that if that supply chain is replaced, and patients have the experience of being able to receive a reliable, repeatable, standardised medicine that works, that removes one of the key pieces of friction from the industry itself.”
To achieve this, Glass Pharms says it has developed a ‘continuous production model’, which will harvest ‘every week of the year’.
Mr Heley explained that this is ‘very different from’ most companies who fill a greenhouse, harvest the crop, then store it in a warehouse for months before it reaches the patient.
After just a few months of storage, the terpene and cannabinoid content will begin to change ‘beyond the kind of spec we would like to deliver’.
“So having a short supply chain, where we’re able to provide fresh flower, the value for patients where the distance between harvest and use is minimalised is that the terpene and cannabinoid content are kept to exacting standards.”