Extraction Scale-up: A Matter of Dollars and Sense

 In excerpt from a forthcoming book

Scale-up of the extraction process, from grams to kilos of extracted oil per day, is a key determinant in the success of your cannabis business. At this point, you will have established reproducible procedures for processing consistent starting materials and developed a selective, efficient extraction method that delivers your desired end products with the optimum yields. Transferring those methods to production scale, however, is not necessarily a straightforward, linear process.

There are many additional factors that come into play whenmoving from the lab to pilot scale to production. The efficiency of the scaleup operation will have a major impact on profitability.  Facility size, utility costs, material storage requirements, hardware investment, consumable costs, skilled labor and waste disposal are just some of the many considerations that must be weighed and balanced to achieve the most cost-effective process that delivers the purest product̶with the highest throughput̶and the optimum yield. A key decision at this point is whether to invest in the resources to do it yourself internally or hand off to a contract scaleup organization to do it for you. It really comes down to a matter of dollars and sense.

Let’s look at some of the determining factors. The system cost is determined by its size and capacity, based on the amount of material to be processed per day.Key equipment considerations revolve around the major components of the extraction system, namely the pump(s), extraction vessels and separators/collection vessels  ̶sizing the equipment is dependent upon the kilos of material you plan to process, pump capacity, and the solvent to feed ratios. System configurations vary based on the required capacity, and can include single or multiple pumps and multiple extraction vessels. An extraction consultant will help to perform the calculations based on the parameters above to determine the size of the components and the amount of CO2 or other solvent that will be required to process the amount of materials you want to achieve.

Another equipment consideration is whether there will be a need for post-extractionprocessing. Ethanol extractions typically require substantial post-extraction purification steps to remove unwanted collected materials from the extract. CO2, on the other hand, is highly selective and delivers much purer extract that requires minimal post-extraction processing. Process scale chromatography purification equipment is expensive and can be quite complex.

Labor costs are typically consistent regardless of scale, whether you are operating a 5 L or a 500 L system. The scaleup process requires skilled labor  ̶  qualified engineers, analytical chemists and certified quality control technicians. As the industry matures, no doubt it will become more regulated with cGMP requirements that will increase the number of technicians needed to ensure compliance.

If investing in your own production extraction facility doesn’t make business sense, other options are available to eliminate the upfront costs of extraction equipment, labor, infrastructure and everything else that goes with it. At smaller scale, co-op facilities might be desirable. In California, for example, the rise of cannabis cooperative associations enables small producers to band togetherto coordinate productionandshare costs. There is also an emerging mobile extraction laboratory business where a fleet of vehicles isequipped to perform CO2 supercritical fluid extractions right at your site on demand. Full scale production services can also be outsourced to licensed contract manufacturing organizations.

There are pros and cons to each option and each should be carefully considered before heading to production.

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