Jessica McKeil   |   June 26, 2021

300 Million Dollar Cannabis Research Facility Planned for New Mexico

Automated, autonomous, and dedicated to medical cannabis research—that's the plan for a monster facility currently under construction outside of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer based in British Columbia, Canada. She has a passion for cannabis tech and scientific breakthroughs, which has led her to work with some of the industry's biggest brands. She is the owner and lead-writer…

With the approval and a memorandum of agreement lined up from the Drug Enforcement Agency, the company behind this endeavor, Bright Green, is already going full steam ahead with this facility.

This 300-million-dollar project, with the full support of Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham, is focused on improving the consistency and purity of cannabis for research purposes. Once completed, it is set to dramatically improve the landscape of cannabis science in the US and beyond.

Bright Green Responding to an Urgent Need in Cannabis Science

Ask any cannabis researcher what's holding back cannabis science, and more than likely, they'll talk about the lack of federally approved material. For decades, all flower used within federally funded cannabis research has come from a single source: the University of Mississippi.

With limited low potency strains and a production schedule failing to meet demand, the DEA has finally started to add new production facilities to the roster. Bright Green is one of the few who have already secured the DEA stamp of approval. They announced their memorandum of understanding with the DEA in May 2021.

Bright Green CEO Ed Robinson said in a recent press release, "While much is written about the cannabis market, we believe the true contribution of cannabis lies in its medical applications." As he explained, "Our vision is to improve the quality of life across a broad demographic group through the opportunities presented by medicinal applications of plant-based therapies, including cannabis-derived products."

State-of-the-Art Facility Focused on Automation

About 70 miles outside of Albuquerque, this state-of-the-art facility is already well under construction. The majority of the 20-acre cultivation space will be a dedicated greenhouse area split into two flower spaces and one vegetative space. But, there are already hints that the entire operation could end up covering more than 150 acres of land in the years to come.

Bright Green is planning one of the highest-tech greenhouse growing facilities ever built, a requirement for facilities of this scale. The sheer size means that the company has built automation into the very essence of the design.

In practice, this means a greenhouse floor lined with computer-controlled rolling benches. Rolling benches allow for fast and easy movement of potentially thousands of plants as they reach different growth cycles. But robotic benches are just the start. There are also plans for equipment capable of automated pot filling, connected to an in-facility pot transportation system (no pun intended).

According to Bright Green, they are also implementing a BioTrack Tracing System, which automatically issues barcodes for every single plant. As one of the few federally approved facilities working with cannabis, advanced track-and-trace systems will be of utmost importance for security and compliance reporting.

In Robinson's words, "Legal compliance is at the crux of our company ethos, and we will comply with all federal, state and local laws to supply cannabis for federally sanctioned research."

With the federal approval to cultivate, manufacture, store, and package cannabis for research purposes, this new facility will also have designated packaging, processing, and storage areas — all decked out in the latest technologies. This includes the capacity for a state-of-the-art CO2 extraction.

Growing by Plant Empowerment (GPE)

Commercial cannabis has recently gotten a bad rap for its excessively negative impact on the environment, hence why the Bright Green facility is planning to work under GPE principles.

Growing by Plant Empowerment, or GPE requires careful control of the climate, humidity, heat, and air movement for better energy efficiency. In a well-designed GPE facility, it's possible to maintain a balance of water, energy, and CO2 all within the greenhouse. Of course, it all requires serious upfront investment in infrastructure, including energy screens, fans, and high-tech sensors. 

Energy screens are one of the most interesting components of this design. These are strategically deployed to maintain a specific temperature and keep the canopy warm by reducing heat loss through the greenhouse roof. As one resource put it when it comes to energy efficiency, "it may seem a trivial detail, but it makes a significant difference."                          

Automated and Autonomously Driven for Consistency and Purity

Bright Green's vision is to "improve the quality of life across a broad demographic group through the opportunities presented by medicinal applications of plant-based therapies, including cannabis-derived products," all while committing to the consistency and purity of the product.

To reach this goal, especially at scale, they will rely on automation and advanced software-controlled systems to cover everything from climatic controls to pot filling. The result will be one of the most advanced greenhouse ecosystems globally, all run by a comparatively small team of researchers and cultivators.

As one of the few companies with federal regulatory approvals, Bright Green's journey toward cannabis production for scientific research will be a fascinating one to follow.

 

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