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S2 E01 - Hydrocarbon Cannabis Extraction Overview
Episode 14th May 2021 • The Modern Extractor • Jason Showard
00:00:00 00:17:04

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Jason Showard walks listeners through an overview of the hydrocarbon extraction and post processing workflow, taking cannabis from cultivar to concentrate.

Transcripts

Jason Showard -:

Hello and welcome to season two of The Modern Extractor. This podcast focuses on the processes, equipment and science found in a cannabis extraction laboratory. I'm your host Jason Showard, and I work professionally in the cannabis extraction field. Here in season two, we're focusing on hydrocarbon extraction and post-processing. With each episode digging into a particular stage in that process. The shows are released in an order that follows the workflow through a lab as material makes its way from Cultivar to concentrate.

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Last season, we worked our way through an ethanol extraction lab. Starting with biomass and following it all the way through to distillate and isolate. This season we'll do the same, but with hydrocarbon extraction and all the various finished products that it can produce. In today's show, we'll be taking a bird's eye view of the entire hydrocarbon extraction and post-processing workflow. We won't be getting too deep into any particular stage of the process as this is an overview of the full process, and we'll dove deeper into each stage along the way in the weeks to come.

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It's worth mentioning that there's going to be some overlap between seasons one and two. So rather than saying the exact same thing in different words, I'll likely reference past episodes. If you're newer to extraction and haven't listened to season one, I highly recommend going back before diving right into season two. There's a lot of general extraction groundwork laid in season one that'll help you understand this season. And we'll be right here when you get back.

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So to kick things off, let's start with why we would choose to extract with hydrocarbons over another extraction method. To answer that, we need to ask ourselves the question I encourage all my consulting clients to ask themselves when we first get started, "What is the end product we're trying to produce?" The hydrocarbon extraction process is fantastic at gently extracting the terpenes and flavonoids found in the plant along with the cannabinoids, and lends itself to the production of a ton of different cannabinoid and terpene rich craft concentrates.

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So if the answer to what we're trying to produce is live resin, shatter, pull & snap, diamonds, sauce, crumble, wax, butter, sugar or any of the others that I may have missed, then hydrocarbons are an excellent choice. CO2 also does a great job of retaining the terpene profiles of the plant, but we'll get to that eventually, maybe next season. Due to the bottlenecks caused by a maximum allowed quantity of hydrocarbons in a facility, hydrocarbon extraction isn't the ideal solution for producing bulk crude for distillation. So if the answer to our earlier question is bulk distillate, then ethanol extraction is the most efficient way to produce this. And we should refer back to season one.

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Most hydrocarbon extraction is performed using butane, but isobutane, propane and butane propane gas blends have become increasingly popular in the past few years. Since it all started with butane, oftentimes all the extracts I just named are lumped together and referred to as BHL or butane hash oil. We can't very well do a season on modern closed loop hydrocarbon extraction without a little bit of history.

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So under Prohibition, an unregulated market caused a bunch of unpermitted bootlegging wildman to make BHL the, well, old way. Butane extraction of cannabis started by what is referred to as "open blasting." This is when biomass is placed into a vertical column with a butane inlet at the top and a filter at the bottom. Liquid butane is run through the column, extracting the cannabinoids and the terpenes from the biomass into the liquid, and collected in an open collection vessel, oftentimes a Pyrex dish at the bottom.

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The butane evaporates quickly at ambient temperatures, creating highly flammable, potentially explosive uncontained vapors in the area, and leaves the extracted cannabis oil in the collection vessel. The extracted oil is sometimes put into a vacuum chamber and purged of the residual butane, and sometimes just sold to the customer.

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These incredibly unsafe practices caused a bunch of explosions, and fires, and lost lives, and were no good for anyone. This ridiculouscity paved the way to the closed loop butane extraction systems that would contain the vapors and reconvince them into a gas, making the process significantly safer and allowing the gas to be reused in the next extraction. Due to all the headlines about BHL extraction disasters, hydrocarbon extraction carried a stigma with it for years.

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Over time, the industry has evolved. Techniques have gotten significantly more safe and refined, and the stigma has fallen away to give birth to the modern hydrocarbon extraction industry, which produces some of the most sought after concentrates on the market today.

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After that little bit of history, I'll reiterate when dealing with hydrocarbon extraction systems, that safety is incredibly important. So next week in Episode two, Alex Barsky from C1D1 Labs will be joining us to tackle all things safety. We'll cover everything from personal protective equipment to all the different safety requirements that your local municipality may mandate for your facility. Also, he's going to walk us through what permitting a facility looks like. It's going to be a great interview.

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Almost all fire departments will require hydrocarbon extraction facilities to extract in a C1D1 or Class I, Division 1 room. Due to the rigid standards of these specifications, many extractors find it easier and faster to get their permits when they purchase a prefabricated or custom-built extraction booth from a manufacturer that specializes in meeting and exceeding those codes. Even if your city is a bit behind the curve and not requiring it, extracting in a C1D1 extraction booth is by far the safest way to work with volatile hydrocarbons.

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We'll get into the C1D1 and C1D2 classifications a little more in depth with Alex. But briefly, for the sake of this overview, let's talk about what C1D1 means and what an extraction booth typically consists of. The C1D1 classification assumes that under standard operating conditions, there will usually be a presence of concentrated flammable gases or vapors. A C1D1 extraction booth is typically a sealed room equipped with live gas monitoring equipment to let you know the levels of flammable gases present.

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Some booths take automatic actions such as safely exhausting the air in the room, if the levels exceed the acceptable limits. They'll have HVAC systems capable of exhausting more than the amount of gas that your extraction equipment can output, as well as a fresh air intake and a fire suppression system that will help prevent a disaster. Since building a C1D1 environment is expensive, there's certainly a bit of strategy to deciding which pieces of equipment in your facility need to live inside this space. We'll get into all that with Alex.

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So now that we're all set up to extract safely, we need to decide what we want to extract. In season one, we talked about biomass selection. A lot of the same principles apply. Most importantly, we'll make sure we're getting our material from a reputable source that we trust. The best way to do this is to forge great relationships with your local growers. Since hydrocarbon extraction doesn't have the throughput that ethanol extraction has, we'll be able to have a little bit more control over the material we're choosing to extract from. The consensus seems to be that the highest quality hydrocarbon extracts are produced from fresh frozen biomass.

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Fresh frozen means that the flower has been harvested, had the fan leaves removed and is immediately frozen to preserve the terpenes and the flavonoids that are present when the plant is alive. The curing process changes the fresh terpenes, so the material is fresh frozen to prevent this. Cured flower or trim is regularly processed as well, but the more selective we are about what we're extracting, the higher quality final products we're going to get. Unlike ethanol, extracting with hydrocarbons allows us to preserve a terpene profile much more accurate to the original biomass.

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Lower quality biomass can still be extracted for crude and turned into quality distillate or a lower quality BHL concentrate. The active ingredients are still there, but the terpenes are usually a little less desirable. So let's get to extracting.

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There are many ways to prepare your biomass for extraction Futurola, who appeared in Season one's episode on Material Prep, makes shredders that work great for particle sizing. There are a number of milling machines on the market for this as well. For fresh frozen material prep, I put it out to Instagram and asked the extractors what they do.

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One of the responses I got was spray the biomass with liquid nitrogen and break it up by hand it pack the column. Another one was to put vacuum packed material in dry ice for a few minutes and then crush it up gently with a sledgehammer. Again, all of the prep is dependent on the material we're extracting, the final product we're trying to make, and the extraction technique that we plan to use.

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So after we've decided what to extract, we need to make the decision about what we're going to extract it with. In Episode three, we'll have Lexis Shontz, CEO of Solvent Direct on the show to talk about solvent decisions. We'll explore why we choose butane, isobutane, propane or a custom gas blend. The important thing to remember is that all of these decisions are going to affect our final product.

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Some solvents are better than others at extracting different compounds. Some act differently at different temperatures. There are advantages and disadvantages to all of the decisions that we make along the way, and it all helps us craft our desired final product. So going in with the vision and making the correct decisions to realize that vision the most efficient way possible, really is the name of the game here.

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Solvent choice is just one step along the way. While we have Lex on the line, we'll also cover why solvent purity matters as well as the need for FDA regulations for pure solvents in clean tanks.

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So we've got our permits. We've got our C1D1 extraction booth. We've got some high quality biomass. We've got the perfect solvent blend. Now it's time to make the magic happen and actually extract it. In Episode four, we'll talk to Boris Kogan from Bizzybee about their closed loop hydrocarbon extraction systems. The system we use to perform the extraction is going to play a big role in the quality of our final product. Basically, the more control an extractor has over the temperatures, pressures and residence times throughout the system, the more they can impact the outcome of the extraction process.

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There's certainly more of an art to hydrocarbon extraction than there is to ethanol extraction during the extraction stage, and we're going to learn all about it. A closed loop hydrocarbon extraction system typically consists of a solvent storage tank, a material column, often multiple material columns, a collection tank and a condenser tank. If it's what is referred to as an active system, it will include a compressor to pull solvent vapors out of the collection tank and compress them into the condenser tank.

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If it's what's referred to as a passive system, the chilled condenser tank will draw the vapors towards the tank and condense them without any compressor needed. This is what Boris refers to as thermo dymagic. So that's what a closed loop hydrocarbon system looks like. How does it actually work? For the ease of this explanation, let's say we're using butane as our extraction solvent and a passive recovery system. The butane in the solvent tank is chilled down to our desired extraction temperature, using a chiller pumping cold liquid through the tanks jacket and internal coil.

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The extraction temperature is usually -40C or lower. A valve is opened and the cold pressurized butane, which is in a liquid state, flows into the top of the jacketed, chilled material column, extracting the cannabinoids and terpenes from the biomass inside. This part can be done with the downstream valves closed to allow the material to soak in the liquid butane or with the downstream valves open to let it flow through the material column and into the collection tank.

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If we're using multiple material columns, the liquid butane will flow from the bottom of the first column up through a hose to the top of the next column and extract more oil with each column that it flows through.

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Sometimes nitrogen is used to create pressure and assist the solvent in moving along and prevent it from creating equilibrium, and stopping its progress through the system. Once all the butane containing our oil has made its way through all of the material columns and into the collection tank, it's heated. The butane evaporates, leaving the oil behind and the vapors are passively drawn toward the chilled collection tank. This collection tank is typically kept as cold as you can get it, using liquid nitrogen or a super low temperature chiller moving cold fluid through its jacket and internal coil.

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From here, the liquid butane is pushed back into the solvent tank where its journey began. The thing about hydrocarbon systems is that they're fairly modular and various columns can be added along the way. De-waxing and dehydration columns are often added into the path of the butane at various points, but we'll get into all that later. One of the other components that's often added into the butane's Flow Path is CRC. There's so much passionate debate about CRC in the industry, that I think it's worth devoting an entire episode to.

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So that's where we're headed for Episode five. CRC stands for Color Remediation Column or Color Remediation Cartridge. We'll go with a column for this example. A CRC is a filtration column packed with various powdered media used to filter out dark colors or other contaminants from our hydrocarbon or ethanol extracted oils. In hydrocarbon extraction, a CRC can usually be found between the final material column and the collection tank. The liquid butane containing our cannabis oil is pushed through the media packed in the column, which will absorb different impurities in the oil, depending on which media you've chosen to put into the column.

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CRC is as much of an art as it is a science and bad CRC procedures can easily take a high quality extract and turn it into a very low quality final product. This along with the fact that bad actors will often take low quality extracts and polish them up using CRC to pass them off as, "Premium products" is what causes CRC to be such a polarizing topic. The bottom line is that CRC is a powerful tool that would be good for an extractor to have in his or her bag.

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It's something that, when used carefully and correctly, can increase the quality of our products. But unfortunately, when used incorrectly or dishonestly, can create quite an outrage and a significant backlash in the industry. Moving on from CRC, in Episode six, we'll talk about all the different products that can be produced using hydrocarbon extraction. Such as live resin, shatter, pull & snap, diamonds, sauce, crumble, wax, butter and sugar. We aren't only going to talk about what they are, but we'll get into the different SOPs that are used to produce them.

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If all we have to extract from is some lower grade material, and we don't want to make any other products that I just named, we can definitely use our current setup to extract crude that will later be decarboxylated and run through a table top short-path or a wiped film evaporator to produce distillate.

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All right, well, that just about does it for the overview of this season on hydrocarbon extraction. I may add an episode here or there as I make my way through recording the interviews, and come across things that I think are pertinent. I'm super excited to be back at it again and bringing the best information that I can to you guys out there.

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As always, if you want to hear something specific on the show, please do let me know. Email me at Jason@ModernExtractor.com. Make sure to follow the show on our Instagram @the_modern_extractor. If you guys like the show, please subscribe and give us a rating. The more subscribers and better ratings we get, the better guests. I can look for you here in the future.

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A big thanks to Yzaura Vanegas for handling business on the show's Social Media and a shout out to The New Fools for bringing the funk with the ModEx theme song.

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Thanks again to everybody for tuning into The Modern Extractor. New episodes are out every Tuesday. I'm Jason Showard. Let's talk soon.

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