Keeping it Real: Edibles, Concentrates, and Topicals

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Has it been a year already? Marking the anniversary since the legalization of cannabis in Canada brings with it an even more exciting milestone for the market - the addition of edibles, concentrates, and topicals. It's a promising step for the industry at large in encouraging healthy competition. More importantly, it shines a light on the behind-the-scenes work to ensure safe practices and responsible processing for every product bound for the market.   

Legalization 2.0

Reaching this point in the journey of legalization certainly didn't happen overnight. It's a significant shift in both policy and mindset that hasn't happened since the end of alcohol prohibition. In fact, this recent news has been in the works for years, just not out in the open. A task force comprised of consultants, federal bodies, and industry experts have been leading studies and gathering facts to develop the framework for what's been coined 'Legalization 2.0'. 

What took so long exactly? Most of those closed-door conversations centered around establishing what safe consumption limits looked like, which standard packaging rules to apply, and how to enforce specific marketing standards. As straight forward as those measures may seem to anxious consumers, it's a learning curve that will take some time for even for the most prepared in the industry to get right, and a valid reason behind the uncertainty on how soon products will hit stores. In line with Health Canada’s mandatory 60-day notice period for companies to submit documented proof of compliance, it's assumed the mass availability of such products won’t happen before January of 2020. 

For more information on Canadian Regulations, visit the Government of Canada website

A Battle with the Black Market

While a progressive move, Canada's strict regulations on cannabis are set to ensure the health and safety of the public, with ambitions to displace the industry’s black market. Global research consultancy firm Deloitte estimates that the second wave of cannabis legalization is expected to open a $2.7 billion market in Canada, with cannabis-extract-based products accounting for about $1.6 billion. Figures like these pose a question of how the 'bad guys' fit into that future equation. Recent scandals of THC-vaping products suggested to be tied to illegal vendors have created an air of caution with consumers and opened the gates of opportunity for those able to answer the demand with safe, consistent, and affordable product lines. As the legal industry matures and responds to the factors that have kept the illegal side booming -- which include cost, location, and supply -- it’s bound to cut deep with the black market.

From gummies and creams, cookies, and shatter, keeping these edibles, concentrates, and topicals pure doesn't start in the storefront, rather begins in the stage of turning flower into extracted oils. When it comes to extracting with the cleanest process and producing a pure broad-spectrum output, CO₂ remains the reigning champ. Unlike butane and ethanol methods that are toxic and flammable, CO₂ extraction uses temperature and pressure to produce a clean, quality pull of essential compounds. No harsh residual chemicals or contamination of harmful toxins within the final product - be it concentrates, topicals and edibles - means you can count on it being 100% pure cannabis, and 100% safe.

Learn more about the pure process of CO₂ extraction in our Guided Tour

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Top 3 Skills to Look for in an Operator

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The success of the most sophisticated systems in the world, from planes and trains, to computers, and medicine are all dependent on one thing - their operators. A testament that no matter how complex a design or automated a process might be, there still needs to be an expert in control. Extraction is no different. In fact, the reliability of your investment depends on the men and women balancing variables, comparing numbers, and using their intuition to reach an optimal output. How do you find the top talent to run the most critical part of your business? We’ve got you covered with the top three essential skills to look for in an extraction Operator. 

1. MECHANICAL APTITUDE

An Operator wears many hats when it comes to CO2 extraction, from handling biomass, and monitoring the flow of solvent to adjusting the pressure and conducting preventative maintenance tests. Talk about a long list of duties, which is simpler for those who come from industries that require the same knowledge, such as mining, oil and gas, heavy equipment operations, and other processing machinery. What exactly does experience on a rig have to do with operating an extraction machine? More than you think. Having a mechanical aptitude of any kind means being aware of the function of the component that makes up a complex system. 

Take the phase management aspect of CO2 extraction systems. It offers versatility and control of specific extraction parameters in the process, but with that comes a level of manual application - turning levers and setting pressure and temperature boundaries. It’s like hopping into a Ferrari. You better make sure you know what all the buttons do if you want to utilize the car’s full power potential and get the most out of the experience.

Coming from a similar industry and understanding the motions isn’t the only valuable takeaway. Previous experience also brings a familiarity with the technical terms of the job. To find someone who has not only mastered the craft but is fluent in the language around the process, equipment, and roles from day one, means saving valuable training time and resources.

2. CRITICAL THINKING 

As much as it is a science, let’s not forget that extraction is also an art. Sure the systems are meticulously designed and built to do the work, but some aspects require creativity. Operators are in a constant state of trying to strike the right balance with several variables - temperature, time, pressure, and more - all in an aim to find that extraction sweet spot. The pace of the industry is moving quickly, and with technical systems to match, having the ability to think critically has never been more precious to a company’s bottom line. 

Machines won’t always run the way intended, and troubleshooting won’t always be straightforward. Even having a system down for an hour is enough to cause a hard hit on profits. While Vitalis support will always be an option - we want to be our client’s last resort on account that an Operator was able to think on their toes and correct it themselves to ensure little to no downtime. A natural comparison is when a pilot receives an alert that there’s something wrong with the aircraft and has a very short window of time to fix it until things go downhill. Scrolling through a user manual would likely slow things down. So, what kind of pilot would you want in charge? If we had to take a guess, it would be someone with that natural ability to assess a situation, identify discrepancies, and create workable solutions to be communicated to an entire team. 

3. FOCUS

Optimizing throughput and efficiency when working long hours isn’t easy for everyone. Add to that having to follow a particular set of detailed instructions and record data means being alert and proactive as an Operator is a must.

It’s not just a skill we encourage our customers to seek when building their team. Being able to focus is a crucial aspect we look for in every one of our Vitalis Operators charged with performing our standard Factory Acceptance Tests before delivering the systems. Over an extended time, our team tests the equipment under minimum and maximum operating conditions for accuracy, safety, and consistency. We take it seriously, being one of the final people responsible for ensuring the systems are flawless.

SUPPORTING YOUR OPERATORS TO SUCCEED

Finding the right Operator with these three essential skills is one piece of the puzzle to extraction success. No matter who fills that role, it’s crucial they are fully equipped with the tools and the support they need to perform. Lending a hand to our customers and bridging that gap with training, manuals, and 24-hour assistance long after the systems are delivered to run their machines will always be a top priority. 

Want to learn more about setting your business up for success? Speak to one of our experts today. 

In Case You Missed It: GMP Basics

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Europe is the next big-ticket for medicinal cannabis, but it’ll take more than just having the right resources and team in place to make an entrance. The key to accessing this emerging market is having Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) accreditation. A requirement that all medicinal products come from a GMP accredited manufacturer is one of many strict regulatory measures the European Union has put into place. Their aim is to assure both regulators and consumers that the products are safe, consistent, fit for purpose, and of the highest quality.

As part of our Vitalis educational series, our team of experts recently led a webinar on the process of obtaining a GMP certification for the equipment. In case you missed it, we’ve recapped the most important points to consider.

What is qualification versus validation?
Validation is an act, process, or instance to support or collaborate something on a sound authoritative basis. Qualification is an act or process to assure something complies with some condition, standard, or specific requirements.

Does the Factory Acceptance Test (FAT)  include actual extraction performance as performed on the customer like feedstock?
No. The FAT includes running the machine at a minimum and maximum operating parameters with no product. It allows for any issues with the machine to be identified in the absence of the product.

Are all of your gauges also field calibratable for future Performance Qualification?
Yes, all of the sensors and gauges can be calibrated by a qualified professional in the field.

Does re-using and recycling CO2 present any GMP challenges?
Re-using any solvent in a GMP environment does pose a challenge. You must prove that the recycled solvent will not affect the product quality of future batches.

Is there any statement in any of the GMP schemes that define Calibration requirements during the maintenance/life cycle of the equipment?
GMP regulations do not state how often instruments should be recalibrated as every instrument will be different. Manufacturers may provide a recalibration schedule, but it is ultimately up to the customer.

How does the development of Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) fit into the GMP documentation sphere?
Any task that is done in a GMP environment that affects product quality should have a SOP to support that task. Having a SOP ensures that the task has been evaluated and is done the same way every time.

Does the scope of GMP change based on the stage of the process? For example, does a solvent tank require the same surface finish as an extractor?
They do not necessarily need to have the same surface finish. GMP is a risk-based system. If the risk of microbial or chemical contamination of the surface is high, then a smoother surface would be warranted to allow for easy cleaning. The solvent tank will probably only contain solvent and no product. Depending on the solvent, the surface finish may be rougher as the risk of microbial contamination is low.

Who is responsible for verifying and providing the GMP certification, and is it different per jurisdiction?
Every GMP jurisdiction will have a regulatory authority with inspectors to carry out audits.

Are EU-GMP regulations the most stringent?
It is hard to argue who has the most stringent GMP regulations, but the most highly regarded regulations can be found in the US (FDA), the EU, and Japan. Traditionally the FDA has been the largest pharmaceutical manufacturers while the EU and Japan are the largest markets, both bringing with them their own set of mature regulations.

What insight do you have into the qualification process for multiple pieces of equipment from different manufacturers?
Each piece of equipment in a GMP environment needs to be qualified separately, regardless if they are from the same manufacturer or not. When using multiple manufacturers, the qualification effort may be more as each manufacturer may offer differing levels of support and documentation. If you can procure equipment from the same manufacturer, then you only have to deal with one company, which may streamline your overall GMP validation efforts.

Is EU-GMP easier or more cost-effective for CO2 extraction technologies versus ethanol extraction?
Both can be used for GMP purposes. However, it all depends on the products you are manufacturing, as well as the pre- and post-processing methods required. There are additional infrastructure requirements when using ethanol and getting ethanol of the required grade may be difficult depending on geography.

Are cannabis extractors currently required to be GMP certified in Canada?
Cannabis extractors do not need to be GMP certified in Canada; they must adhere to Good Production Practices (GPP).

Is it possible to operate a GMP certified piece of equipment in a non-GMP certified facility? i.e. can you get a qualification on the machinery, but not the whole facility?
GMP certification applies to the entire production process, so you can’t have GMP certified equipment in a Non-GMP facility. You can have equipment that is GMP compliant and that receives the qualification in a non-GMP facility.

Is it possible to have a fully compliant lab and make dangerous products?
Many common pharmaceutical drugs and foods such as coffee, if consumed in excess, can be toxic and, therefore, dangerous. Most pharmaceutical drugs, if not taken as per the manufacturer's recommendations, can have harmful effects on an individual. Every pharmaceutical drug has to go through an approval process, and part of that is determining the safe dosage. If the advice is not followed, then there could be harm to the consumer, but if the advice is followed, there should be no issues, and the drug can be considered safe.

What if your terpenes are made in a Current Good Manufacturing Practice (cGMP) facility, but you add too much to a cartridge and vape at too high of a temperature?
Take, for example, if terpenes are made in a cGMP facility, but too much was added to the cartridge and vape at too high of a temperature. This has been occurring in the USA due to very lax regulation at the state level on vape cartridges and no regulation at the federal level. Equally, it means the FDA, the agency tasked with protecting consumer safety, cannot. The only way to avoid such a thing is for cannabis to be brought within the scope of the FDA where they can regulate the vape cartridge contents and set limits.

cGMP is one part of consumer safety, but does that mean it is necessarily assurance of its safety?
GMP is meant to protect consumer safety during the manufacturing process of the product. GMP has nothing to do with whether the product itself is safe. Product safety is covered when a pharmaceutical drug is submitted to the FDA for approval and is what clinical trials establish. GMP will guarantee that the product has been manufactured consistently and to the highest possible standards.

Interested in learning more about GMP? Speak to one of our experts today

Take a Guided Tour of CO2 Extraction: Part 1

From the machinery and components through to solvent recovery, learn how CO2 extraction is made possible!

Part 1 - get familiar with the systems and equipment involved, from pump technology to phase management.

Carbon dioxide (CO2) makes an excellent extraction solvent for botanical oils. CO2 is a unique solvent as it retains its solvency power as either a (subcritical) liquid or as a supercritical fluid depending on the respective temperature and pressure. By changing the pressure and temperature of CO2, its solubility and selectivity for a specific compound of interest can be changed to optimize an extraction.

This three-part series will provide a guided tour through the process of extraction using CO2 as the extraction solvent. Various aspects of the extraction system will be covered ranging from the machinery and components, the different parameters that can be used, to the interwoven principles of extraction (see Figure 1 for an overview). The first part will provide a mechanical focus on the early stages of the process, particularly on storage of the solvent and the distribution of the solvent via a dual acting positive displacement pump. Part two will examine what occurs during the extraction process in the extraction chamber, solvent power and the associated solubility. Finally, part three will cover the separation of the solutes from the solvent stream and solvent recovery.

The Vitalis Difference - Figure 1 Pages - Block Diagram-01

1. STORAGE

The extraction process begins with the CO2 accumulator. This is the reservoir that supplies the system with solvent during operation. CO2 can be stored here as either a low-pressure gas, a high-pressure gas or a liquid.

The Vitalis Difference - Phase Management - Final_corrected

2. DISTRIBUTION

The pump is the next stage of the process. The job of the pump is to deliver CO2 to the system at a selected pressure. The two most common pumps that are used in the extraction industry today are dual acting positive displacement pumps and diaphragm pumps.

DUAL ACTING POSITIVE ACTING DISPLACEMENT PUMPS

Dual acting positive displacement pumps have the ability to deliver an uninterrupted flow of solvent into the extraction system. In turn, the pump’s hydraulic cylinder applies force to two oppositely directed pistons. Liquid enters the available space ahead of one piston, as force is applied to the other to deliver a volume of the solvent. At the completion of this stroke, force is then applied to the opposite piston, now primed with a volume of solvent ready for delivery to the next section of the machine. Hence, dual acting positive displacement pumps eliminate the interruption in solvent output (by eliminating the down stroke). Figure 2 shows the recharge and output operation of the dual acting positive displacement pump. Due to their efficiency and continuous solvent delivery, and the fact that their design is very robust, they are the favored option for use in extraction equipment.

Figure 2

DIAPHRAGM PUMPS

Briefly, solvent only enters diaphragm pumps on their down stroke and is then delivered on their output stroke (Figure 3). Despite numerous variations on their designs, solvent delivery results from these pulses; thus, the system will experience an interruption in the flow of solvent at each down stroke as the pump is primed with a new volume of solvent for delivery. Furthermore, diaphragm pumps generally have smaller displacements (being that the pump strokes provide a lesser fluctuation in internal volume) and operate at higher frequencies (more cycles for the life of the operation) which results in increased wear and system pulsation. This style of pump is also known to be less robust, making it less reliable, which leads to potential increased downtime for maintenance and component failure.

Figure 3

Regardless of what pump is chosen, as the CO2 reaches the pump, it must either be as high-pressure gas or in a liquid state. As previously mentioned, only liquid and supercritical phases of CO2 have adequate solvent power to be used in extraction. It is important to note that if a high-pressure gas is delivered to the chamber, enough additional pressure must be built up within to produce a liquid or supercritical fluid. If the solvent is pumped as a liquid, no change of phase is required. However, an operator may wish to adjust the fluid temperature which would include potential selection of the supercritical phase, before the solvent reaches the extraction chamber.

PHASE AND EFFICIENCY

Importantly, the phase of the solvent as it is acted upon by a system’s solvent-delivery pump can affect the extraction machinery’s mechanical efficiency. Liquids are effectively non-compressible, meaning the force applied by the pump is used to efficiently deliver solvent to the system. Conversely, more work is required when applied to a volume of gas and this will be given off as thermal energy as the gas is compressed. This means, that when acting on a volume of gas, an amount of the output stroke’s energy is then converted to heat.

Delivering the solvent as a liquid incorporates further efficiency as the density (being the number of particles per unit volume) of gases, even under high pressure, is much lower than that of liquids. This means that two identical pumps, one primed with a volume of gaseous CO2, the other with an identical volume of liquid CO2, do not contain the same amount of solvent. The pump filled with the liquid CO2 contains more solvent molecules than the pump filled with gaseous CO2. This results in fewer pump strokes that are required to deliver a given amount of solvent when it is pumped as a liquid.

3. PHASE MANAGEMENT

Phase management is an optional stage during the extraction process. Temperature adjustments including those where a phase change is induced, can be made using a phase management system. To adjust the solvent temperature, the flow is directed through one or more coiled or folded solvent flow paths within heat-exchange bath(s) or vessel(s). These flow paths are designed to maximize the surface area and can be used to either increase or decrease solvent temperatures through the flow path piping.

From here CO2, either as a subcritical liquid or supercritical fluid, goes into the extraction chamber where the extraction process takes place, before following on to the separation stages. These stages will be covered in the ensuing two parts of this guided tour of a CO2 extraction system.

The Vitalis Difference - Phase Management_v2

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GMP Overview Part 3: How To Get Ready For GMP

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Deciding to become GMP certified is a crucial first step, but before embarking on the journey it is imperative that a cannabis supplier or manufacturer is both prepared and understands what is required for GMP certification. Failure to plan properly and allocate the necessary resources can have a significant detrimental impact upon a business. Getting the GMP certification process right will save time, money, and resources, and can be highly advantageous for a company involved in the cannabis industry. Not only does it allow greater market access, but it also helps to reinforce the quality and reliability of the product being sold. Here are some important steps and considerations that companies should take into account as they get ready for GMP certification.

Getting a GMP specialist

When first considering whether to gain GMP certification, it is important to have an experienced specialist to assist you. This GMP specialist can be an internal or external resource and is essential to navigate the intricacies of GMP legislation and compliance. This person should have the skills to be able to conduct a gap analysis and report their findings. This process will identify the gaps between current processes and GMP requirements and provide recommendations to get the business ready for certification. It is far more efficient and effective to identify gaps early as implementing GMP retrospectively can incur significant costs. Knowing the cost and effort required to obtain GMP certification upfront allows for effective planning and minimizes the overall cost.

Risk Assessment

GMP covers all aspects of production from the raw materials, facilities and equipment, to the training and personal hygiene of staff. GMP requires that a business carry out a risk assessment of all their processes, identify areas that contain potential risks, and adopt strategies to minimize their occurrence. High risk areas identified from the gap analysis will require a larger qualification and validation effort than areas deemed to be lower risk. Typically identified high risk processes include manufacturing equipment, facilities, and personnel that work directly or closely with product. The areas of risk will differ between different manufacturers and suppliers, so it is important to understand all processes and the risks each pose.

Becoming GMP Certified

Gaining GMP certification requires a cannabis supplier or manufacturer to complete a GMP audit process. The auditors will be representatives from the regulatory authority for which the business wishes to gain certification, and the auditor’s agency will differ between jurisdictions. For example, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) GMP inspection will be conducted by an auditor from the FDA. In the EU, while the European Medicines Agency (EMA) will coordinate inspections, the inspection itself will be carried out by a national authority in one of the EU member states. Here in Canada, to gain EU GMP certification an auditor from an EU member state will complete the audit.
Following the inspection, an audit report is produced stating whether or not certification has been achieved and provides corrective actions to be taken where it has not.

Every effort is made to ensure auditors are consistent in their interpretation of regulations. Even so, the individual auditors’ readings and inferences are subjective – what one auditor might find acceptable another may not. It is important to note that such discrepancies are uncommon and where they occur, processes have been established for resolving any potential audit disputes.

Maintaining GMP Certification

Maintaining GMP certification is important in ensuring continued market access and product accreditation. This can be achieved through measures such as properly maintaining equipment and facilities, following standard operating procedures, and ensuring GMP documentation is in order and available to inspectors. GMP auditors can conduct both scheduled and surprise inspections to ensure manufacturers or suppliers remain compliant. Failure to comply with GMP regulations can result in severe penalties such as shutdown of manufacturing facilities, seizure or recall of product, and even criminal investigations and lawsuits, all depending on the level of non-compliance. While it is possible to re-gain GMP certification or to fix any non-compliance issues, depending on the financial implications of the penalties imposed, for smaller businesses it could lead to failure of the business.

As more businesses within the cannabis industry look to implement GMP, manufactures or suppliers that follow suit will not only increase their business opportunities, but will also develop a reputation of excellence in the quality of products they produce. The need for GMP certification will soon increase as it appears GMP will become the standard for medical cannabis products and potentially for recreational products as well. Understanding what is involved in the GMP process is essential for a company looking to become involved in this space.

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Vitalis Writer Publishes Third Article in 3 Part Series

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Vitalis writer Krista Kulczycki has just concluded her three-part series on the topic of yields.

The article, published Aug 22 on Cannabis Science & Technology, wraps up the set with a discussion on processing parameters, and how operating conditions, including extraction runtime and processing parameters, have a major influence on the yield obtained from an extraction. Access Part 3: Return Versus Effort and Associated Processing Parameters here.

Throughout the series, key concepts in extraction are examined. From pre-processing through to profitability, Krista goes into detail on the variables that can impact yields, providing a clear explanation on an industry topic that is often misunderstood.

To view the entire series, check out Part 1 and Part 2 on Cannabis Science & Technology, and look for more from Krista in the near future.

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Extraction Fact vs. Extraction Fiction

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CLAIMS OF TIME & RECOVERY

Extraction as an industry is growing fast, and there are a number of companies vying for market share and consumer attention. In the CO2 space alone, there are dozens of companies supplying equipment to the industry. In this space, it's natural to see organizations trying a number of different tactics to get ahead.

Unfortunately, in the course of competitive business, statements can be made that are inaccurate and/or false. One typical myth that has had its time in the spotlight is the subject of yields. This topic can arise when people try to make simple comparisons between different types of equipment, and it is used as a measure of efficiency. However, as has been covered numerous times (check out this article), the subject of yields can be confusing and even misleading.

There have been numerous instances where the question "what is the yield on this machine?" is followed up with a simple numerical response like, "30%". Without even questioning the starting material going into the system, this can be misleading. If one were to use starting material that is 5% cannabinoids into a system, getting 30% yield would mean that most of the output would be non-cannabinoid material.

While the topic of yields and the confusion surrounding it has been discussed for years, a new subject of interest has come to light - percent extraction efficiency, also referred to as recovery percentage . The percent extraction efficiency is a number calculated by measuring the difference in cannabinoid mass between the feedstock and the post-extraction raffinate. As a simplistic example, if 100g of a specific compound existed in a specific volume of plant material, and the extraction output was measured to have 97g, the percent extraction efficiency would be 97%.

Unfortunately, while this topic has started to gain traction, so too have some of the myths surrounding the process. For example, some are reporting that they're hearing statements about the recovery percentage of a particular system within a specific period of time. For arguments sake, let's use the example of a 95% recovery in a run-time of 2 hours. These results are fantastic, but are they even possible? Keep reading to find out.

THE SCIENCE OF EXTRACTION

CO2 extraction is a process that has as part of its foundation a few key scientific principles. The key factors in an extraction are temperature, pressure, time, and flowrate. Under a set of parameters (temperature and pressure) during a run of a specific duration (time) and based on the overall volume of solvent passing through the substrate (flowrate), an extraction will produce a quantity of crude oil.

For different compounds within the biomass, different temperature and pressure settings can increase or decrease their solubility within the solvent. As well, the more time the extraction is given to run, the more of that particular compound can be extracted (this article talks about the "declining curve" of recovery that is typically noticed). Finally, the amount of solvent that is flowing through the chamber can also increase the overall efficiency of the extraction.

None of these factors are magical. Rather, they are scientific principles upon which extraction is based. The end result of the extraction is similarly based on the science. Given a specific set of parameters, the laws of physics, the phenomenon of mass transfer and solubility, an extraction occurs.

THE EXTRACTION CURVE

This image represents the extraction curve, or better put, gives a graphical look at the amount of cannabinoids that can be pulled from the plant material over time. The familiar "declining curve" shows that in the first part of the extraction, the majority of cannabinoids are recovered. As the solvent continues to penetrate the biomass, components that are further from the surface of the material take longer to recover. Over the course of the run, the remaining desirables are pulled.

Given the laws of physics and the physical properties of solvent and biomass, this shows what happens when appropriate temperature and pressure parameters are set when targeting cannabinoids. These parameters are chosen as they are the most favorable for extraction of target compounds with as little co-extraction of non-desirable components like fats and waxes.

THE UN-TRUTH

Technically, 95% recovery in 2 hours is possible. This can be accomplished by drastically increasing temperature and pressure settings during the extraction. Unfortunately, the by-product of such a process is the complete extraction of both desirable and undesirable compounds. This leads to a situation where post-processing requires greater amounts of time, energy, equipment and resources. In this case, maintaining these numbers indefinitely is neither profitable nor sustainable.

When evaluating claims that are made across the industry, it is wise to get the actual details behind the statement. If a claim like our example is heard, then the discussion should focus on the how - how is it possible to reach those numbers, and what are the downsides that also result? Similarly, hearing wild claims about the yield of a particular extraction system should be met with queries regarding the biomass. What are the percentages of desirable compounds in that plant material, and how does that compare to the claim (remember, 30% yield from a 20% feedstock is nothing short of magical)?

As the industry gains momentum, we can anticipate more outrageous and fantastic claims. As in most situations, regardless of industry or transaction, critical thinking pays off. Like the saying goes, “if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.” While some “claims” can technically be true, the realities may not be close to the desired outcome. Educate yourself, purchase wisely.

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CO2 Extraction Without Winterization

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Carbon dioxide (CO2) is an excellent choice of solvent for extraction of natural compounds. The technology has been used successfully in commercial applications for over 40 years, including hop extraction, herb and spice extraction, oilseed extraction, and coffee decaffeination. CO2 is non-flammable, non-toxic, cheap, and readily available in large quantities at high purity. The extraction process is carried out at near-ambient temperature preventing damage to heat-sensitive compounds, and small changes in process temperature and/or pressure can result in large changes to solubility.

For these reasons, the cannabis industry has adopted CO2 extraction as an ideal method for cannabis oil processing. Cannabis is an extremely complex plant containing over 550 unique chemicals identified to date, including cannabinoids, terpenes, phenols, flavonoids, fatty acids, pigments, and other miscellaneous compounds. Typically, the cannabinoid and terpene fractions collectively make up approximately 10-30% of the mass of buds. Though the larger residual fraction contains many beneficial compounds, it is the cannabinoid and terpene fraction that the industry is focused on for extraction and purification.

UNDERSTANDING WINTERIZATION

In a typical CO2 extraction, extraction parameters can be tuned to produce crude oil that contains 45-80% cannabinoids and terpenes. The remaining portion will consist of co-extracted components from the feedstock that are either highly soluble in CO2 at the given processing parameters; or, have low solubility but are easily accessible and co-extracted with limited mass transfer resistance. A process called winterization can be employed to remove the co-extracted fraction. In this process, the extracted crude oil is mixed with another solvent and exposed to cold temperature to precipitate some amount of the undesirable co-extracted solids. The solids are then separated from the liquid through a filtration process, yielding what is known in the industry as a “winterized oil.” Depending on the desired outcome of the process, the oil may be further processed or purified or formulated directly into retail products.

Winterization can be a time-consuming process and can be a rate-limiting step in some cannabis processing operations. Because of this, many manufacturers are touting equipment that can eliminate the need for this additional process. However, these claims generally cloud the truth by avoiding discussion of the pros and cons.

Can winterization be minimized or eliminated? The answer is yes, but a better question to ask is should it be? Read on for some tips on reducing winterization in CO2 extraction.

You get what you put in.
In general, extracting feedstock with a high content of desirable constituents will yield an extract with a high content of desirable constituents (provided these constituents are easily extractable). In other words, starting with high-potency, terpene-rich cannabis feedstock will yield a crude extract containing a high cannabinoid and terpene content. Conversely, starting with a low potency low terpene feedstock (i.e. trim or industrial hemp) will yield an extract with a higher content of non-cannabinoid, non-terpene material that will likely require winterization.

Material Preparation.
Reducing particle size will increase the mass of feedstock that can fit into a given volume (increase density) and increase the extraction efficiency by reducing the distance the solvent must travel to reach the center of a particle. However, reducing particle size ruptures plant cells and exposes their interior contents to the solvent. This increases the likelihood of coextraction of undesirables, which require removal using winterization.

Extraction Parameters.
One of the benefits of CO2 extraction is tuneability; solvent power is affected by changes in CO2 temperature and density. Thus, extraction parameters can be tuned to favor the extraction of a compound or groups of compounds with similar chemical properties. For example, Perrotin-Brunel et al (2010) examined the solubility of pure THC in CO2 and found that at extraction pressures lower than 2175 psi, THC solubility decreased with increasing temperature (density-dependent), and at pressures higher than 2175 psi, THC solubility increased with increasing temperature (temperature dependent).

Many cannabis processors choose to use cold (<60 F), low pressure (<1200 psi) liquid CO2, as terpenes are highly miscible under these conditions. Liquid CO2 is very dense, having low selectivity and high solvent power towards high molecular weight compounds. Further, the solubility of major cannabinoids in CO2 at these parameters is low, so more solvent contact is needed and thus, more time is required if cannabinoid extraction is the goal.

Alternative Separation Methods.
There are alternative methods of separation that do not involve traditional winterization techniques. As with many technologies used in the cannabis industry, many have been adopted from other industries. Decantation, for example, can be used to separate immiscible liquids with different densities. In the food industry, a centrifuge is used to separate cream from skimmed milk. Another example would include nanofiltration, which can filter fats from oil without the need to first freeze and precipitate the fats as solids.

Not all products require winterization.
Perhaps the goal of the manufacturer is to make a “broad-spectrum” oil that contains all the components, plant fats and waxes included, originally extracted from the plant material. Such an extract would most closely resemble the chemical makeup of the original plant material. Raw crude extract can either be packaged as-is or diluted with a carrier oil to achieve a desired cannabinoid concentration. Typical products would include capsules, tinctures, and syringes.

Extraction without winterization is possible, but its application to business processes is reliant on the feedstock, preparation, and parameters. Alternative extraction methods provide some options, while product options provide more. However, in the typical day-to-day world of CO2 extraction, companies need to be sure that their end goals are compatible with the requirements and outcomes of a winterization-free process. If somebody tells you that winterization isn’t required, be sure you are clear on the intended results.

If you need more information on extraction, with or without winterization, the Vitalis science team is able to help. Work with a team of experts that can back up their claims with science and data; a team that consistently assists customers in understanding the nuances of extraction and processing.

References:
Perrotin-Brunel, H. et al. 2010. Solubility of Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol in supercritical carbon dioxide. The Journal of Supercritical Fluids 52: 6-10.

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Standard System Maintenance

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IT’S EASIER THAN YOU THINK

When you own or operate performance-driven machinery, one thing you're constantly aware of is the day-to-day maintenance and upkeep. Certainly, a person driving a Ferrari makes sure that they keep up with their oil changes, washes the vehicle on a regular basis, keeps air in the tires, and every now and then performs an engine tune.

Working with CO2 extraction equipment is no different. In fact, given the investment made in the system, as well as the profit potential, the argument can be made that your extraction equipment should be treated better than a Ferrari. With the technology behind the systems, the engineering and design that goes into each part, and the ultimate performance on the line, a CO2 extraction system is a pure example of a high-powered, performance machine. Keeping that in mind, staying up to date with standard maintenance ensures the system is running properly and protects the investment.

However, framing it in this light can make the prospect of operating the system a little intimidating. Stepping behind the wheel of a Ferrari for the first time can be exhilarating, but also a little scary - will I be able to keep it under control, am I a good enough driver to manage this, can I do what's needed to keep it in tip-top shape?

Unlike Ferraris, CO2 extraction systems don't require a mechanical engineering degree to perform routine maintenance, and you don't need to schedule appointments with a certified mechanic. In fact, despite the technology and design behind them, the maintenance tasks required are the dictionary definition of "standard".

TASKS

On a CO2 system, there aren't any tires to keep filled with air, and the only oil changes required are those that occur when the hydraulic oil is replaced yearly and when an operator pulls the beautifully extracted crude oil out of the extraction separation chamber. Standard maintenance tasks on these machines are fairly straight-forward, and the user manual that comes included with each Vitalis system outlines a pretty easy schedule for daily, monthly, and quarterly upkeep.

Of course, the more the system is running, the more often some tasks are required. A system running 24/7/365 will need regular maintenance, while an extractor operating a few times a week will have a less rigorous schedule. How long and how often a machine is running is the key qualifier when examining the regularity of maintenance tasks.

With a schedule in hand, keeping track of the simple yet exceptionally important upkeep is pretty easy. What's more, the regularly scheduled work is easy enough that typically one person can manage most of it. For some larger tasks, it never hurts to have a second set of hands, but the general maintenance outlined in the user manual doesn't require a massive investment of man-hours and labor. On a well-run extraction team, having 1 or 2 people responsible for regular upkeep is sufficient.

SKILLS

When deciding on the person responsible for the maintenance, it's still wise to choose the most skilled person for the task. In looking at the maintenance tasks on your Vitalis, anybody with a mechanical background is great. But that doesn't mean the person needs to be a former rocket-scientist or aviation tech.

Having the ability to turn a wrench, lift a few pounds, and generally operate standard hand tools is more than enough skill required to manage your maintenance tasks.

But, even in cases where a person has never seen a hand tool, never had to tighten a screw or loosen a bolt, the training that Vitalis provides during commissioning can turn a mechanical novice into a person qualified enough to maintain the system.

TRAINING

You wouldn't get behind the wheel of a car (legally) without being licensed to drive, and you wouldn't have a license if no one ever taught you how to operate a vehicle. Similarly, when commissioning extraction systems in the field, the Vitalis Service Team is onsite working with your operators to teach them how the system works, operates, and what's required to keep it in prime condition. Through standard training practices, your team is given the knowledge necessary to keep up with the maintenance routines. If your system arrives at your facility without a detailed user manual and no training is provided, then it's a 100% bet you weren't working with Vitalis.

Not only is training provided, but the user manual goes into great detail on each specific task required in the maintenance schedule, including step-by-step instructions and accompanying images to ensure easy understanding. The science & engineering teams work diligently to provide customers with the necessary documentation and up-to-date information to maintain the extraction system.

As well as being familiar with the manual, having a library of instructional videos and walkthroughs can be a definite plus. Many of the required standard tasks also have an accompanying instructional video that goes through the steps and tasks, outlines the tools needed, and provides helpful guidance to operators.

MAXIMUM PERFORMANCE

Just as ensuring your Ferrari has clean oil and full tires is integral in keeping your high-performance vehicle operating at maximum capacity, so too is ensuring that your CO2 extraction system has seals replaced and vessels cleaned. While it can be daunting to stand beside a 200L industrial-scale extraction system, the upkeep required is anything but. Generally, standard maintenance tasks should take no more than a few hours each week, and – when compared to the potential of costly downtime – is a smart time investment to make.

With a wealth of available resources, a learning management training system, and 24/7 service availability, ensuring that your team has the knowledge and support to perform routine maintenance tasks on your Vitalis is simple and easy. Keeping up to date with the maintenance required is also a key step to ensuring that you're getting the best performance from the system, maximizing your ability to turn plants to products, and enhancing your profitability.

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