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Cannabis greenhouses are creating light pollution, but there are solutions

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The legalization of cannabis in Canada last October created a new type of agricultural industry. Some estimate cannabis could be worth $6.5 billion in retail sales alone. That’s good news if you’re a grower.

But, as with any new industry, there’s a learning curve. And this one involves lights.

Growing cannabis is no easy task. The plants have different stages and require precise lighting cycles, with the largest area in greenhouses reserved for plants requiring 12 hours of sunlight and 12 hours of darkness. At one stage of growth, a plant might thrive best with 18 hours of light.

If the sun doesn’t provide adequate light, cultivators use artificial lights. These lights can be on at night, and the result — particularly for large greenhouse facilities — is a brightly lit night sky, commonly referred to as light pollution.

Aphria’s cannabis production facility in Leamington, Ont. Recent research suggests that light pollution can seriously affect birds, insects and even plants. (Evan Mitsui/CBC)

Light pollution plagues cities, but this time it’s encroaching into rural areas, and some are concerned. For example, there have been complaints in Kingsville, Ont., Leamington, Pelham, and Langley, B.C.

The consequences of light pollution go beyond just not being able to see the stars. It can have serious ecological consequences, and studies suggest that it has adverse health effects on humans.

Consequences

Recent research suggests that light pollution can seriously affect birds, insects and even plants.

Some nocturnal animals may use the darkness to hunt, while nocturnal prey use the darkness to hide. Altering that can alter an entire ecosystem: prey suddenly become much more vulnerable and could even disappear.

Frogs, who use their croaking as part of their breeding ritual, have been shown to reduce their croaking in the presence of artificial light.

And artificial light also has been shown to disorient migratory birds.

As for humans, it throws off our circadian rhythm, our (roughly) 24-hour clock sleep/wake cycle. Some studies have shown that this disruption is linked to obesity, diabetes and heart disease. And there have also been some studies that suggest a moderate increase in the risk of breast cancer among nurses who are exposed to light at night due to shift work.

Lights of human activity shine in NASA’s image of Earth at night

“It’s become very clear to us that there are rhythms that are established by light and dark that are set to natural sources like the sun,” said John Barentine, who lives in Arizona and is director of public policy at the International Dark-Sky Association. “And by exposing ourselves to artificial light during those times of day when the body and the brain don’t expect them to be there, it can have the effect of beginning a cascade of biological processes that might lead to certain kinds of chronic diseases.

“We are animals that exist in a natural world and we’re disrupting that natural world and that has distinct consequences.”

‘Good neighbours’

Barentine said that light pollution from greenhouses isn’t anything new. What may be different here is that these greenhouses may be opening in rural locations where it’s already dark.

“Depending on the scale of the operation, the light emission at night can be absolutely off the chart,” he said.

But he acknowledges that cannabis stands to be an important revenue generator and source of employment in communities.

Cultivators at Canopy Growth’s greenhouse examine plants under high-sodium pressure lights. Canopy added shades to the sides of the greenhouses which has reduced the light significantly without being cost-prohibitive. (Canopy Growth)

So how does a burgeoning industry cope with reducing light pollution and ensuring the health of wildlife and humans while at the same time ensuring they have healthy crops?

“I do feel for the position that this puts the operators in,” Barentine said. “My perception in talking to people here is that the operators are not very conscious of the light issue.”

Last February, Canopy Growth faced backlash from residents in Langley, B.C., when they complained about the “disruptive” nighttime lights.

“There’s always going to be a transition period,” said Jordan Sinclair, vice-president of communications at Canopy Growth Corp., one of the largest cannabis growers in Canada. “The producers themselves have to go through a period of making sure they’re good neighbours.”

In response to the Langley complaints, Canopy added shades to the sides of the greenhouses which, Sinclair said, has reduced the light significantly without being cost-prohibitive. Other growers can do the same, though it can take weeks to months to install depending on the size of the operation.

While Barentine notes that there are no regulations for these greenhouses — typically, lighting regulation pertains to outdoor lighting, not indoor — it’s something that municipalities are likely going to have to address — and soon.

“It’s tricky,” Barentine said. “We’re beginning to get counties and municipalities, mostly here in the U.S., reaching out to us asking for help with the regulatory aspect. To be honest, this is so new in many respects, that we don’t have an out-of- -the-box policy solution to this.”

Full disclosure: The author previously headed the Toronto chapter of the International Dark-Sky Association. 

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The ‘Maple Majestic’ wants to be Canada’s homegrown Tesla

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Look out Tesla, Canada has a homegrown electric sedan on the way. Well, that’s if AK International Motor Corporation can drum up enough investment to make its EV a reality. Dubbed the “Maple Majestic,” the vehicle is a battery-electric designed to “excel in extreme climate performance without adversely affecting the climate, as befits a vehicle from Canada,” according to its website.

What’s in a name? — The company says the maple leaf is a “symbol of Canada’s warmth and friendliness towards all cultures,” while “majestic” refers to the country’s “status as a Constitutional Monarchy.”

That patriotism carries over into Maple Majestic’s parent company’s lofty goals. AK Motor founder Arkadiusz Kaminski says he wants the company, which he founded in 2012, to become “Canada’s first multi-brand automotive OEM,” and that the “Maple Majestic is intended to be Canada’s flagship brand of automobiles on the world stage.”

Partnerships are key — “We acknowledge that the best chance for the Maple Majestic brand to succeed, lies in continuing to build the relationship with Canada’s parts suppliers and technological innovators, whether they be academic institutions, corporations, or individual inventors,” the company explains. “We are currently seeking partners in automotive engineering, parts manufacturing, automotive assembly, electric propulsion technology, battery technology, autonomous technology, and hybrid power generation technology.”

In other words, don’t expect to be able to buy a Maple Majestic any time soon… and don’t expect to pour over 0-60 mph times, power output, range, or other key stats, because those don’t currently exist. For now, all we have are pictures and a short video clip. But at least those are arresting.

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PE-backed Quorum Software to merge with Canadian energy tech firm

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Houston-based energy technology company Quorum Software will merge with a Canadian tech firm to bolster its presence in oil and gas services.

Quorum announced Feb. 15 it plans to merge with Calgary, Alberta-based Aucerna, a global provider of planning, execution and reserves software for the energy sector. The combined firm will operate under the Quorum Software brand.

Gene Austin, CEO of Quorum Software, will continue in his capacity as chief executive of the combined firm. Austin, former CEO of Austin-based marketing tech firm Bazaarvoice Inc., became CEO of Quorum in December 2018.

Aucerna co-founder and CEO Wayne Sim will be appointed to the Quorum Software board of directors. Both companies are backed by San Francisco- and Chicago-based private equity firm Thoma Bravo.

“Over the last 20 years, Quorum has become the leading innovator of software deployed by North American energy companies,” said Austin. “Today, Quorum is expanding the scope of our technology and expertise to all energy-producing regions of the globe. Customers everywhere will have access to a cloud technology ecosystem that connects decision-ready data from operations to the boardroom.”

In addition to the merger announcement, Quorum Software announced it had entered into an agreement with Finnish IT firm TietoEvry to purchase TietoEvry’s entire oil and gas business. The agreement, which includes hydrocarbon management, personnel and material logistics software and related services, is valued at 155 million euros, or $188 million, according to a statement from TietoEvry.

“Our three organizations complement each other — from the software that our great people design to the energy markets where we operate,” said Sim. “Our new company will be able to deliver value to our stakeholders, while accelerating the growth of our combined business and the energy industry’s software transformation.”

The combined company will serve over 1,800 energy companies in 55 countries, according to the announcement. With its headquarters in Houston, Quorum will continue to have a significant presence in Calgary and in Norway, the headquarters for TietoEvry’s oil and gas software business. Quorum will have other offices throughout North America, Latin America, Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

As of Sept. 30, 2020, private equity firm Thoma Bravo had more than $73 billion in assets under management. In late December 2020, Thoma Bravo agreed to acquire Richardson, Texas-based tech firm RealPage in a roughly $10 billion acquisition.

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Piece of Kitchener technology lands on Mars on Perseverance rover

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KITCHENER — A piece of Kitchener technology has landed on Mars, thanks to NASA’s Perseverance rover.

The rover settled on the planet’s surface on Thursday afternoon. It’s been travelling through space since it was launched from Cape Canaveral, Fla. in July.

“The whole idea of being on a device that we’re sending to another plant with the express mission of looking for traces of past life, it’s pretty mind boggling actually,” said Rafal Pawluczyk, chief technical officer for FiberTech Optica.

The Kitchener-based company made fibre optic cables for the rover’s SuperCam that will examine samples with a camera, laser and spectrometers.

“The cables that we built take the light from that multiplexer and deliver it to each spectrograph,” Pawluczyk said.

The cables connect a device on the rover to the SuperCam, which will be used to examine rock and soil samples, to spectrometers. They’ll relay information from one device to another.

The project started four years ago with a connection to Los Alamos National Lab, where the instruments connected to the cables were developed.

“We could actually demonstrate we can design something that will meet their really hard engineering requirements,” Pawluczyk said.

The Jezero Crater is where the Perseverance rover, with FiberTech Optica’s technology onboard, landed Thursday. Scientists believe it was once flooded with water and is the best bet for finding any evidence of life. FiberTech’s cables will help that in that search.

Ioannis Haranas, an astrophysicist and professor at Wilfrid Laurier University, said the rover isn’t looking for “green men.”

“They’re looking for microbial, single-cell life, any type of fossils and stuff like that,” Haranas said. “That’s why they chose a special landing site. This could be very fertile land for that.”

“It’s very ambitious,” said Ralf Gellert, a physics professor at the University of Guelph.

Gellert helped with previous rover missions and said it’s the first time a Mars rover has landed without a piece of Guelph technology on it. While he’s not part of Perseverance’s mission, he said the possibilities are exciting.

“Every new landing site is a new piece of the puzzle that you can put together with the new results that we have from the other landing sites,” he said.

“It’s scientifically very interesting because, even though we don’t have an instrument on that rover, we can compare what the new rover Perseverance finds at this new landing site,” he said.

Now that Perseverance has landed on Mars, FiberTech is looking ahead to its next possible mission into space.

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