From SpaceX to GrowX: Advancing Aeroponic InnovationA relatively new entry into the cannabis industry, GrowX’s aeroponic innovations for indoor operations are nevertheless revolutionizing the sector. Just as LED light science dramatically changed the market just a few years ago, aeroponics is set to do the same by improving yield while reducing water consumption.
J.P. Martin, the CEO of GrowX, has a long list of impressive positions in his recent past, ranging from a high profile position with Booz Allan in the defense sector, to consumer marketing for Advantage Solutions, one of the largest consumer goods packaging company in the world. However, it's his most recent position at SpaceX that garners the most attention.
According to Martin, nothing on his resume has the same level of street credibility as his one year stint at SpaceX working on a team focused on enterprise resource planning, which is essentially the Mars version of seed-to-sale planning in the cannabis industry.
It is apparent that Martin’s time at SpaceX left a powerful impression on his future focus. There are many aspects of his work at GrowX which harken back to his time at SpaceX; working as part of a driven team focused on a mission much greater than itself. GrowX has chosen to enter the agricultural sector through cannabis but has equally lofty goals for environmental protection and water waste reduction. Most industry vets will confirm that water consumption technologies for cannabis are in dire need of a makeover.
The Basics of Aeroponics
Most growers focus on hydroponic systems for their indoor grow operations. Yet, when Martin started growing his own cannabis during the height of the California drought, hydroponics clearly was not the answer. Obsessed with perfecting his in-home cannabis yield, while also striving to reduce his stress on an already taxed water system, Martin turned to a technology popularized by NASA: aeroponics.
Aeroponics differs in one essential way from a hydroponic growing system. Hydroponics requires a liquid medium; common setups include deep water culture, nutrient film technique, ebb & flow, and top drip technologies. Aeroponics, on the other hand, require no growing medium at all. Instead, suspending the root system in an enclosed chamber of air. Periodically the root system is misted with a nutrient solution, reducing the overall water consumption by up to 98 percent per plant.
There are two types of aeroponic systems, low-pressure systems, and high-pressure systems. A true aeroponic setup requires high pressure, the key to the technology being the speed of the mist and the size of the drop.
Martin has perfected the pressure, actually incorporating fuel injectors from a jet engine into the design, so that roots receive precisely the water required without overexerting themselves on root expansion. The root hairs, which make up the microscopic surface area of the root system, are allowed to thrive, thereby massively increasing the surface area of the roots resulting in optimum water and nutrient uptake. The cannabis plant instead focuses on overall yield. According to Martin, aeroponically grown crops have higher nutrient density, which for cannabis, means higher cannabinoid content.
The Aeroponic Difference of GrowX
Through five years of trial and error, Martin transformed a do-it-yourself aeroponic system into a superior product which vastly outpaced the commercially available options. He quickly discovered what worked and what didn’t, and moved past the three inherent problems he encountered in a conventional setup:
- The constant issue of hydraulic atomizers clogging with minerals
- Bacterial and viral infections common in aeroponic systems
- The arbitrary and inefficient misting times and settings in aeroponic systems
He solved these inherent problems by thinking out the box, eventually developing a completely encapsulated system, or pod, as the initial GrowX offering. This initial prototype was ultimately broken down into a minimum viable product focused on the aeroponic feature. The simplified aeroponic product has still netted nearly $2.1 million through letters of intent. That is more than 40,000 units expected to start shipping in the summer of 2018.
The Future of GrowX
If you ask Martin how GrowX got to where it is now, he’ll tell you “With a little luck, and a lot of intention.” His intentions are still set high; cannabis is simply a stepping stone towards other crops with intense water requirements. GrowX's cannabis-focused product has already gained significant attention from some of the top growers in the country, and soon Martin plans to work towards the hop market.
There is no excuse for crops like cannabis to put such intense pressures on an already taxed water system. Martin firmly believes that with all the technology on hand, including novel aeroponic innovations, that agriculture no longer needs to rely on toxic pesticides and fungicides to improve yield. By some estimations, aeroponics can effect a 300 percent increase in crop yields with a 98 percent reduction in water consumption. A revolutionary and environmentally friendly shift could soon be upon the cannabis industry.