Whether a cannabis cultivator is growing outdoors, in a greenhouse or in an indoor facility, odor can quickly become an issue. It’s imperative for operations to consider and implement odor control technology in the initial buildout, before neighbors are affected.
Equally important is finding an odor control solution that is both safe and effective for the community, employees and the plants.
Dr. Laura Haupert is the Director of Research and Development for OMI Industries, a provider of natural odor-eliminating technology specific to the cannabis market. She explains how OMI’s solution works, why it’s safe and effective and how cultivators can work with their local communities to mitigate odor issues before they arise.
Cannabis Business Times: How does OMI’s odor control solution work? Can you provide a brief overview of the science behind it?
Dr. Laura Haupert: We developed Ecosorb CNB 100 specifically for control of cannabis grow odors. Like all our products, Ecosorb CNB 100 is a blend of natural plant oils, which is the part of the plant that gives it its odor. We only use steam-distilled plant oils, which means, for example, if you had a pine tree and you had a pine cone, you would take that pine cone and heat it with water to pull the oil off. That’s a simplified version, but it’s essentially what we do to isolate the natural oils. We only use plant oils that are removed that way. You can also extract the plant oils using solvents, but solvents can react with the plant oils, producing new hazardous compounds, and we don’t want to affect the natural plant oils.
Then we blend bio-based surfactants with the natural plant oils. Bio-based surfactants means that it is derived from plants and other renewable materials. With bio-based surfactants, you have to use more than one chemical from a plant, you put them together, and you have a new compound (the bio-based surfactant). So, it’s not natural anymore because you altered it by putting two chemicals together (as a note, water is a chemical), but every part of the surfactant comes from plants. We also use a reverse osmosis system so that we have highly purified water.
Our products have to make contact with the odors in order to neutralize the odor itself. If you’re at a greenhouse, cannabis plants are going to release odors in the form of volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Even if it’s an outdoor grow, you have odors that are coming off of those cannabis plants. The VOCs being released from the plants smell, and that’s where we step in. The first step to our odor control working is making contact with the odor-causing chemical compounds. You have to make sure that [the odor remover, for example] our product, Ecosorb CNB 100, gets released in the air in droplet form and can attach to the odor molecule. We call this process adsorption. It’s a binding of the odor molecule to the surface of the droplet. This is done by using our vapor phase systems that allow for small droplets to be released in the same location as the odors (vents of a grow house, for example). We use vapor phase technology, which is convenient and durable for any condition. To do this, we run PVC piping around the perimeter of your facility so when that odor comes out and is exhausted out, the [odor remover] is right there to make contact with it.
As soon as our product is vaporized into the air and makes contact (adsorbed), it is then absorbed, which means that odor molecule gets absorbed into the droplet. Once the odor molecule is inside of the droplet, the odor is under control and the odor molecule is not released. You’re not going to smell the odorous chemical compound anymore. In addition, acid/base reaction can take place between the [odor remover] and the odor-causing chemicals, resulting in an organic salt that does not smell.
CBT: What is the significance of using natural ingredients in an odor control solution? Why are these ingredients safe and effective?
LH: We use natural plant oils because they are very effective at removing odors. We also use plant-based ingredients to ensure a level of safety for all those who may use or come into contact with our products. Our products are non-toxic.
If you’re standing outside in a forest, that’s the feeling you want to get when you’re using our products. We don’t use any synthetic fragrances at all—that’s not in our vocabulary.
CBT: How can cannabis cultivators effectively explain their odor control efforts to regulators? How can they work with the community and key stakeholders on the issue?
LH: We have a team internally that does odor testing. This team goes out into the field to measure odor units and gives customers a real-time analysis of their current odor unit level. If you’re at a greenhouse and your nearest neighbor is 100 feet away, we could send that team out to your nearest neighbor and show them how much of the odor is being reduced.
Our team has helped customers share this information in hearings before, and we’ve also helped customers get permits if need be. Regulatory guidelines change frequently, and our team is always available and willing to help our customers with these issues. Many local regulators require air permits, and if this is the case, having an odor control plan in place from the beginning will help ensure you are given an air permit and experience less issues down the road.
Regulatory issues aside, many times it comes down to neighbors complaining about odor, which pushes the city council to step in and require documentation to prove that odor control practices are in place and that they’ve both safe and effective. This is where our team steps in to help.
The key is to be a good neighbor, and controlling odor allows you to do that.
CBT: How can cultivators prevent complaints initially?
LH: The key is to implement an odor control solution from the start because you know the plant is going to create odor. You can’t stop that from happening. Every plant gives off its natural essence, and that’s going to happen no matter what strains of cannabis you grow. If your nearest neighbor is 20 miles away, sure, you might not need odor control, but most of the time, your nearest neighbor is a lot closer than that.
Editor’s Note: This interview has been edited for style, length and clarity.