The Future of Greenhouse Growing is Here: Quantum Dots

by | Jan 27, 2020

Written by Jessica McKeil

Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer and B2B content marketer living in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, Analytical Cannabis, and Grow Mag among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands.

UbiGro and their patented UbiQD technology has found a way to enhance the power of the sun, to provide a modified light spectrum for a flourishing indoor crop. Using quantum dot technology, growers dedicated to sun-grown cannabis could soon see significant increases in yield without compromising their ethics.

UbiGro, a New Mexico company, has already completed several trial runs of its revolutionary luminescent film with surprising results. With the technology transforming the light spectrum in five US states, at 12 different locations, the company is launching its UbiQD technology now into the cannabis grow space. UbiGro has two pilot cannabis projects underway and two more scheduled to start in 2020. Should the results of these pilots replicate the earlier trials, greenhouse-grown cannabis could expect a high production yield benefit from UbiQD technology.

What is Quantum Dot Technology?

While the technology behind UbiQD may seem too advanced for the layman to comprehend, in reality, it's based on a simple idea. The UbiQD film, applied to the ceiling of a greenhouse, looks like a thin, orange plastic sheeting. However, at the microscopic level, this plastic sheeting is hiding an advanced technology called quantum dots.

Quantum dots are the common name for colloidal semiconductor nanocrystals. These crystals are 1/10,000 of the width of a human hair. Despite their tiny size, they have a remarkable light conversion efficiency and size-tunable photoluminescence. Produced in a laboratory, they are formulated within a liquid, which UbiGro then coats onto plastic sheeting to create the UbiQD luminescent film.

Other industries have been using quantum dots for quite some time, but the original materials couldn't withstand the UV exposure in an agricultural setting. UbiGro made a breakthrough by inventing copper-based quantum dots that would hold up against harsh weather conditions and the UV light spectrum of the sun's rays.

Improving the Natural Light Spectrum of the Sun

Greenhouse growing takes advantage of natural sunlight and desirably seasonal growing conditions but within a controlled environment. Companies can tweak daylight hours, temperature, and humidity, as well as light intensity and spectrum within this enclosed environment, to create a perfect ecosystem for different crops.

According to the company's white paper on “Luminescent Greenhouse Films Improve Crop Yields,” the sun's rays provide the best high-intensity, full-spectrum light for agriculture. But now, there is a technology capable of enhancing this power. In the paper, UbiGro describes how “[s]upplemental lighting can extend photoperiods, provide additional light on cloudy days, and alter the quality of light in a greenhouse environment.”

Case Studies Support Improved Yields

In a controlled trial in New Mexico, UbiGro installed sheets of UbiQD over a section of beefsteak tomatoes grown in a hydroponic greenhouse. Grown alongside a control, UbiGro assessed the fresh harvested weight, quantity, color, and flavor of both groups of tomatoes after harvest.

Upon analysis, there were no noticeable differences between the groups on quantity, color, or flavor. However, what was remarkable was the differences between the groups on weight. UbiGro reported “a +20.5% overall increase in fresh weight harvested under the UbiGro films relative to the control.” That would translate into “$15,247 in increased revenues per year” based on the historical data from the greenhouse.

But what about cannabis? UbiGro has successfully completed two pilots using UbiQD in cannabis greenhouses. The first to complete was on Little Hill Cultivators farm in Trinity County, California. During the trial, they noted “an obvious enhanced vegetative growth rate, exemplified by an increase in height, width, and overall foliage, filling more aisle space than their control counterparts.”

Upon harvest and a third party lab assessment, the UbiQD grown plants produced 2.5 lbs more than the control. That's a 5.4 percent increase in total dry yield.

Another cannabis-specific trial done with Frontier Farms in Hood River, Oregon, reported similar results. Again, the farmers reported noticeable differences during the vegetative stage, with the UbiQD plants being taller, more vigorous, and developing tighter buds than the control. Following the harvest, they found that “wet yields were increased by +7.7% on the film side of the trial.” Dry yields, at the time of the report, had yet to be confirmed.

A Future of Sun Grown Cannabis Under UbiQD Film

In 2019, UbiGro received the Frost & Sullivan 2019 New Product Innovation Leadership Award as well as winning the South by Southwest (SXSW) 11th Annual SXSW Pitch Competition in the Hyper-Connected Communities category. With more positive results from cannabis-specific projects under their belt, it’s a technology quickly getting the attention of the greenhouse growers of the industry.

Compared with other spectrum-enhancing options available today, UbiQD is much more affordable. It is a powerful tool to increase yields without destroying the bottom line. In a recent press release, UbiQD chief scientist Damon Hebert confirmed, that “If we can realize a 5%-10% yield improvement, that's a return on investment of three months to six months.” Soon, UbiGro plans to launch a glass option with a significantly extended lifespan of 20 years or more.

With a NASA contract in the works for deploying UbiQD film to grow crops in space, UbiQd has solidified its revolutionary technology as space-ready. But this space-ready luminescent film is already growing big payoffs for the cannabis industry