Cannabis concentrate popularity may slowly dwarf flower sales with estimates that see extracts reaching over $13.78 billion in revenue by 2026. High-quality concentrates such as distillates and high-terpene full-spectrum extracts (HTFSE) can be used to make everything from vape cartridges to edibles to topicals for a consumer base starving for product variety. Solvent-based extraction methods are typically used to produce higher, safer, and purer yields than amateur and dangerous open-blasting techniques.
Hydrocarbons such as butane and propane are the solvent of choice for many licensed manufacturers when making butane hash oil (BHO) concentrates. Butane is non-polar and has a relatively low boiling point (31.1ºF), which is particularly helpful when preserving terpenes with lower boiling points than cannabinoids. Besides the solvent solution used, manufacturers must consider multiple factors to determine how much material their equipment will be able to process in a shift.
Working with Butane
Butane is one of the most prized solvents used for cannabis extraction due to its ability to create a variety of products ranging from odorless distillates to flavorful terp sauces. More importantly, butane allows manufacturers to create full-spectrum products with a range of cannabinoids, terpenes, and flavonoids that are difficult or impossible to make with other extraction methods.
Despite being a highly effective solvent that can produce high yields, working with butane requires careful consideration by producers and state regulators. Butane is highly flammable, which has led to restrictions on its use in Canada and some counties in the United States. State and facility regulations, however, ensure all the equipment and facilities used meet fire and building codes to keep employees safe.
Butane has gone from a maligned solvent to the preferred solvent for many manufacturers looking to scale their production capacity. New automated equipment also takes the guesswork out of producing high BHO yield. As long as extraction companies have enough capital to meet the upfront costs of setting up a BHO facility and gain regulatory approval, they can focus on the granular aspects of maximizing BHO production capacity.
One of the most important parts of the BHO extraction process to consider is the closed-loop extraction equipment being used. Manufacturers must consider the size of their extraction system from their extractor to their recovery pump to determine their output. The system must be big enough to handle the desired throughput and then some to account for any variability. It may be wise to invest in a system with a production capacity that can scale with the business.
The equipment’s parameters are also crucial to gauging how much BHO can be produced. For example, some equipment can reach lower temperatures than others. Low extraction temperatures during the BHO process ensure that minimal amounts or none of the chlorophyll, lipids, and waxes are dissolved. Some equipment may also be equipped with other features such as automated line cleaning to reduce downtime during shifts. Equipment cleaning can run overnight so that manufacturers can utilize every waking moment to process cannabis efficiently.
Another important factor that affects BHO production capacity is the quality of the starting cannabis material. For BHO, extraction can be performed on trim and shake, but the most premium and trichome-rich material is fresh frozen buds. The majority of trichomes tend to form on the flowers rather than the leaves and stems. The more trichomes that can be packed into the extraction column, the more cannabinoids and terpenes can be extracted. It’s important to note that CO2 and ethanol cannot extract frozen cannabis.
The moisture levels of the starting raw material will also affect the extraction yield. Working with fresh frozen buds will mean extractors are working with a high moisture content that can make the buds significantly heavier than dried cannabis. Extractors must carefully consider the moisture levels in dried or fresh frozen flowers to prepare their material and accurately predict throughput.
Storage of the starting marijuana material can also affect the production of BHO. For instance, flower buds that aren’t stored properly can lose out on potency and flavor. Factors such as light, moisture, and oxygen can degrade cannabinoids and terpenes in the material. It’s important to keep material tucked away in a cool, dry, and dark place in either a vacuum-sealed or nitrogen-filled bag.
Besides the actual components and equipment needed to make solid BHO, the equipment operator’s experience level is of utmost importance in cases where full automation is not present. Manufacturers should look for operators with hundreds of hours of experience or more working with closed-loop botanical extraction systems. Extraction operators should be highly skilled in every step of the extraction process from packing columns to performing post-processing best practices to knowing what to do in case of a solvent leak.
Sate-of-the-art extraction equipment such as the IO Extractor features pre-programmed recipes that monitor pressures and temperatures throughout the process without an operator having to step in. Recipes are helpful when handling a variety of input materials since they can vary from batch to batch. These automated systems can drastically improve the processing capacity and rate as opposed to having an operator take months to train and refine their skills.
All of the listed factors and more affect the amount and quality of BHO produced. Essentially, manufacturers must determine how much material they expect to process and then assess the material quality to predict their throughput on their extraction equipment. Building out a capable extraction facility and hiring the right staff for BHO production can produce highly potent and flavorful concentrates for a refined concentrate consumer base. Luna Technologies IO extractor is a solutions-based machine that can turn waning operations into highly successful ones.
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