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商业 - 科技

大麻生产进入2.0时代

Jane Porter 2014年02月17日

研究机构预测,美国合法的大麻市场价值预计将在2014年增长64%,达到23.4亿美元,五年后有望达到102亿美元。因此,美国大大小小的公司眼下都争先恐后涌进这个市场,竞相开展技术创新,希望改进大麻的种植、收获、加工工艺。

    马修•科恩希望他新创立的TRiQ公司能够成为大麻产业的丰田(Toyota)。TRiQ这家位于加利福尼亚州尤凯亚的公司成立于2013年。尽管它还有很长的一段路要走,但却已经开始同业外的软件公司和制造公司合作,试图改良大麻的生产方式。科恩说:“丰田是我们的偶像。他们选择汽车生产系统并最终改造它们的方式与我们在大麻产业希望做到的事情类似。”

    与此同时,在美国北部的底特律城外,医药公司RXNB的首席执行官和创始人山姆•阿拉维已经成功研发了独家的气候技术,可以在精密控制的无菌生产环境中准确再现50种不同大麻的生长环境。阿拉维具有药理学背景,拥有32项大麻相关技术的专利。他说:“人们都在关注大麻合法化问题。但是,这个领域二次革新的重点在于预见性和责任制的问题。”

    根据专门研究大麻产业的投资集团ArcView Group的数据,美国合法的大麻市场价值预计将在2014年增长64%,达到23.4亿美元。ArcView预测,五年后,这个数值会达到102亿美元。意识到大麻市场的巨大发展潜力后,大大小小的公司开始争先恐后地为自己的创意申请专利。不过,在联邦政府(讽刺的是,联邦政府自己也有大麻相关的保健专利)将大麻分类改为一类药物之前,许多投资者和企业都不愿冒险进入这个市场。

    但是,随着大麻产业在越来越多的州合法化,业内的技术开始飞速发展。从生产设备到大麻蒸馏器,再到利用提取物四氢大麻酚制造的产品,处处可见创新的影子。贾斯汀•哈特菲尔德是大麻医用网站Weedmaps.com的首席执行官,也是专注于大麻产业的私募股权集团Emerald Ocean Capital的创始人。他表示,大麻的生产和软件领域依然存在巨大的市场等待发掘。

    各公司意识到需要合理地改进生产过程后,就开始试图找到尽可能可控和高效的方式来种植、收获和加工大麻。TRiQ有一项专利技术,可以用特殊方式烘干大麻,从而杀死一些可能威胁到免疫缺陷病人的特殊霉菌。他们与一家开发医药学管理程序的软件公司、 一家拥有近红外检测技术的生产商和一批来自荷兰的温室工程师合作,着手打造完全机械化的大型温室。科恩说:“我们的目标就是把一切都融入一个完整的系统设计中。”

    大麻种植市场中涌现的大部分技术都涉及发光二极管(LED)的照明功能,这给种植者在室内种植时提供了更加持久和细致的光源。阿拉维目前研究的技术专利着眼于在细胞层面寻找缩短特定植株生长周期的方法,这样就可能使一季一开花的大麻不断开花,从而提升每株大麻的产量。

    阿拉维将RXNB的技术授权给了CEN Biotech,它是底特律市外的公开上市公司Creative Edge Nutrition的分公司。这家公司斥资1,200美元,在加拿大的安大略湖兴建了生产工厂,同时计划今年在加拿大种植、销售130万磅医用大麻。Creative Edge Nutrition是一家在美国销售营养补品和能量饮料的公司,公司首席执行官比尔•查班说:“一切完全由电脑控制,不需要哪个扎着马尾辫、穿着牛仔裤的家伙在周围巡视。”

    

    Matthew Cohen wants his startup TRiQ to be the Toyota of marijuana manufacturing. The company, which opened its doors in Ukiah, Cal. in 2013, has a long way to go. But already, TRiQ is partnering with software and manufacturing companies outside the cannabis industry in an attempt to revamp the way marijuana is being produced. "Toyota is one of our idols," Cohen says. "How they took car manufacturing systems and totally reinvented it -- that's similar to what we are trying to do for cannabis now."

    Meanwhile, up north, just outside of Detroit, Sam Alawieh, CEO and founder of the pharmaceutical company RXNB, has developed closed-door climate bay technology to replicate the exact environment of 50 different strains of marijuana in a controlled and sterile manufacturing environment. Alawieh, whose background is in pharmacology, has 32 patents pending on marijuana-related technologies. "People have been focused on access," he says. "But the second-wave evolution is about predictability and accountability."

    The legal marijuana market in the U.S. is expected to grow 64% in 2014 to $2.34 billion, according to ArcView Group, a cannabis industry-focused investment group. In five years, ArcView estimates that figure will reach $10.2 billion. Recognizing marijuana's growing market potential, companies big and small are scrambling to get ideas patented. But until the federal government -- which ironically has its own health patent on marijuana -- changes its classification from a Schedule 1 drug, many investors and businesses are loath to risk involvement in the market.

    Still, technology is exploding in the marijuana industry as a growing number of states move toward legalization, with innovations ranging from production equipment to vaporizers to products created with THC extracts. In the areas of manufacturing and software, there's a tremendous market to be tapped, says Justin Hartfield, CEO of Weedmaps.com and founder of the private equity group Emerald Ocean Capital, which focuses on the cannabis industry.

    Realizing the need to streamline and improve the production process, companies are trying to figure out how to grow, harvest, and process marijuana in the most efficient, controlled, and effective way possible. TRiQ has a patent out on a technology to dry marijuana in a way that kills specific molds dangerous to immune-deficient patients. They've partnered with a software company that develops pharmaceutical management programs, a manufacturer making Near-Infrared testing technology, and greenhouse engineers from Holland creating large-scale greenhouses that are entirely mechanized. "It's all part of our vision to get everything into a whole system design," says Cohen.

    Much of the technology happening in the growth market involves LED lighting, which offers growers a more sustainable sophisticated lighting source to grow indoors. Among the technology Alawieh is working on are patents that look at how to enrich the growth cycle of specific strains at the cellular level, with the potential to create crops that bloom continuously, rather than seasonally, yielding more marijuana per plant.

    Alawieh has licensed RXNB's technology to CEN Biotech, an offshoot of the publicly traded company Creative Edge Nutrition, based just outside of Detroit. The company broke ground on a $12 million manufacturing facility in Ontario, Canada and plans to grow and sell 1.3 million pounds of medical marijuana this year in the Canadian market. "Everything will be completely computer-automated," says Bill Chaaban, CEO of Creative Edge Nutrition, which has made its bread and butter selling nutritional supplements and energy drinks in the U.S. "You're not going to have a guy walking around with a ponytail and jeans."

    

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