Vancouver startup high on technology to process cannabis plant waste

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A Vancouver startup company is betting it can provide a high-tech solution to help legal medical cannabis growers deal with plant waste, as their production expands to accommodate the recreational market.

Micron Waste Technologies Inc. is developing aerobic digesters designed to take food waste and extract clean water from it that can be reused or disposed of in municipal sewer systems, while leaving compostable biosolids behind.

Recently, Micron partnered with medical producer Aurora Cannabis to try adapting that technology to handle cannabis waste in a contained, compact and environmentally sensitive way that meets Health Canada restrictions on disposal.

“What we’re trying to say is that we have this technology, that we’re working with Aurora (on) to treat cannabis waste on site, make sure all the cannabis components are removed from the waste stream, and at the same time recycle water back into the system,” said Micron president Alfred Wong.

Wong said estimates are that Canada’s industry would generate about 6,000 tonnes a year of waste by 2020.

“What you have right now is a series of not entirely satisfactory solutions” for dealing with waste, said Cam Battley, chief operating officer for Aurora, which has spent $2.3 million to buy a stake in Micron and to help develop the concept.

Health Canada requires that plant waste be rendered inert and unusable, with methods including mixing it with cat litter and putting it in a landfill, incinerating it or shredding it and mixing it with other organic compounds for composting, Battley said.

“(Micron’s process) was an elegant technological solution that was entirely in line with how we do everything,” Battley said of his technologically inclined company.

Aurora will install one of Micron’s digester units at its production facility in Cremona, Alta., about an hour’s drive north of Calgary, to work on find-tuning the process to break down the fibrous plant waste from cannabis.

Tantalus Labs, a newly established medical cannabis grower with a greenhouse in Maple Ridge, acknowledges that Health Canada’s rules imposes additional paperwork in the process of destroying and handling waste, but it isn’t in the market for a third-party solution.

“(The rules) really incentivizes producers to create as little waste as possible, which we endorse,” said Tantalus managing director Dan Sutton.

At its Sunlab facility in Maple Ridge, Tantalus mixes its plant waste with soil and other organic materials before composting it themselves.

“Even if there is some residual cannabinoids in that waste, they degrade very quickly in a compost-optimized environment,” Sutton said.

Sutton added that when its volumes of waste reach a mass that it can’t process on site, it has a contract with a local waste company to handle it.

However, straight composting, which can take up to a month for cannabis waste and often comes with strong odours, isn’t always an option for companies, Battley said.

Battley said Aurora tried composting but didn’t find the process efficient enough for its needs, so it landfills waste.

“The reason we like (Micron’s digester) is that it allows us to deal with it in a clean, green way, on site and with no smell,” Battley said.

Aurora is looking at bigger markets in the U.S. and Europe as the legal cannabis industry expands.

Wong said the digester that Micron is producing for Aurora will be its first manufactured unit, with hopes to be in full commercial production by late 2018.

By: Derrick Penner, Vancouver Sun

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