(This is the second in an on-going series of tips and advice for marijuana and hemp extraction companies. The first is available here.)
Cannabis extraction equipment represents one of the most innovative sectors in the industry, with new products and constantly evolving techniques for processing vegetable raw material.
Among other things, marijuana and hemp companies are developing:
- Ways to combine extraction solvents.
- Novel overwintering methods.
- Tools to refine the extraction process, rooted in the pharmaceutical industry.
1. CO2 associated with hydrocarbons
At Eden Labs, a Seattle-based manufacturer of extraction equipment, founder Fritz Chess is working on a machine that combines the strengths of two common solvents – CO2 and hydrocarbons – for marijuana and hemp companies.
The machines reduce the risk of flammable propane by diluting it with CO2. However, the technology also ensures faster throughput of hydrocarbons.
“It’s the best of both worlds,” said Schach.
It’s not quite as fast as using a simple butane or propane mixture, but the process still produces an adequate terpene profile.
Market demand for terpenes from marijuana in vape pens continues to grow, according to Chess.
The natural terpenes can be used as a safe alternative to “cutting” the viscous extract instead of using a synthetic cutting agent like propylene glycol.
According to Chess, more and more consumers are becoming aware of the importance of terpenes in vape products in order to achieve the entourage effect.
Eden Labs is also working on a smaller extraction machine that can process around 50 pounds of biomass per day, which costs only about $ 50,000.
According to Chess, this is the “Goldilocks” model, as there are not many machines with a similar throughput in this price range.
2. Innovation in wintering
The winterization extraction step – which uses a cold solvent to solidify unwanted plant waxes and cause them to crystallize and fall out of solution – has long been done with ethanol.
At Green Mill Supercritical, a Pittsburgh-based cannabis extraction company, founder and Chief Technology Officer Jeremy Diehl is working on a way to end the step of mixing raw extraction material with ethanol.
“Wintering in real time will play a decisive role for many producers,” said Diehl. “It eliminates alcohol from the process, which is a huge benefit.”
According to Green Mill, using ethanol to hibernate increases the regulatory burden and leads to cannabinoid loss.
Jesse Turner, director of research and development at Green Mill, said, “By far the worst part of the process has always been the alcohol-based overwintering.”
He says he is able to cut the time it takes to harvest biomass from days to hours, saving time and money in laboratory setup and operating costs. This could potentially also help companies enlarge and expand their overall activities.
As with Chess above, Green Mill is responding to consumer demand for more terpenes in extracted products.
The oil extracted using this method maintains a terpene profile that is similar to that of the original raw cannabis strain.
“Cannabis-derived terpenes offer consumers a superior experience,” said Turner, pointing out that marijuana-derived terpenes could help with the medicinal benefits of extracted cannabis products.
The process can also produce an organically extracted product if the biomass is organically grown according to the company.
Diehl pointed out the specialized genetics that the producers have developed over the years of plant breeding. The technique his company is working on would preserve the essence of those genetics, he said.
3. Learn from Big Pharma, FDA
As the cannabis sector evolves and professionalises, it can turn to Big Pharma for solutions.
Long-established extraction tools in the pharmaceutical industry are well suited for cannabis, said Mary Babitz, founder of Cascade Sciences, a manufacturer and distributor of post-extraction equipment based in Hillsboro, Oregon.
For example, cannabis extractors have traditionally used something like a heated water bath to keep their extracts at a constant temperature in order to maintain viscosity.
Babitz said it works, but there is a better way.
“In the pharmaceutical world, they would never use a water bath,” she added. “There are too many germs and the water is evaporating.”
A better approach is a thermal bead bath instead, which maintains the temperature and avoids evaporation.
As an aside, Babitz mentioned that the pharmaceutical industry also has strict maintenance schedules to keep equipment from failing. These schedules are integrated for the processing of workflows.
For example, companies do regular inspections of seals to make sure they are holding up.
Babitz also pointed out that many cannabis extracts are found in food products. Therefore, cannabis companies should adhere to the same standards used by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration or Health Canada.
“There is no doubt that the industry is moving towards more regulation and alignment of best practices for pharma and food,” she said.
Bart Schaneman can be reached at [email protected].