Maximizing Extraction Yields

Essential Extracts pairs certain cultivars with specific extraction processes to achieve the best results. Photo courtesy of Essential Extracts

A cannabis extraction company aiming to achieve the best yields possible must first consider the quality of the starting material and the product being created.

Once that’s established, extraction firms need to focus on:

  • Sourcing the correct strains to create the optimal yield for a particular outcome.
  • Selecting processes to create products with either a single cannabinoid or a full range of properties.
  • Ensuring that maximizing yield won’t mean sacrificing purity.

“Yield and quality can be difficult to achieve because they can go in opposite directions,” said Rubin Torf, co-founder of Scientia Labs, a Salem, Oregon-based cannabis extraction company.

 

Start off Strong

Extractors should be able to identify certain strains of marijuana flower that contain the desired qualities, such as certain terpenes or flavors, for a particular product.

Nick Tanem, founder of cannabis extraction company Essential Extracts, based in California’s Bay Area, tries to pair certain cultivars with specific extraction processes.

“We’re looking to represent that cultivar in its pristine condition,” he said.

For example, the popular strain Blue Dream produces up to 24% more cannabinoids when it’s processed via the butane hydrocarbon method, according to Tanem, whereas it produces less than 5% cannabinoids when it’s run through a solvent-free process, or mechanical separation.

Other strains such as GG#4 yield “extremely well” in both butane and solventless extraction.

Another tip from Tanem: Plant material can be “washed,” or run through a water extraction process, up to four times to create oil for other products such as edibles or topicals.

According to Tanem, GMO is a hot strain in the industry right now, with many people utilizing its high THC and terpene content to create potent products with a strong flavor.

When using a solventless process to create live rosin, he prefers the product to be handled as little as possible and then fresh frozen. The flower should be live when it’s “bucked,” or cut into quarter-size pieces to create more surface area, and then frozen.

For hydrocarbon extraction, it’s less important to break apart the flower, as the solvent will penetrate the plant material and strip out the cannabinoids.

Tanem also looks for dense trichome coverage to maximize oil production. Those trichomes should have a bulbous head containing a good amount of oil.

 

A Soft Touch

Over-processing material can lead to cannabinoid loss.

“Each time you heat it up and cool it down, you’re destroying CBD,” Torf said. “The more times you process it, you’re losing control of the reaction.”

Torf isn’t a fan of extremely cold solvents. He prefers a warmer temperature to help speed up the process of extracting the sought-after molecule.

He also recommends using the freshest, cleanest solvent possible because it will have more volume to absorb cannabinoids and leave less behind in the plant material.

Scientia Labs often extracts hemp biomass for CBD, and Torf watches to see how much CBD is lost in the process. For example, if his biomass material starts at 14% CBD and 2%-3% is lost, that ends up being a lot of material that could have been used.

If a company focuses on a high yield, where it allows for more solvent and more time, the quality of the final product won’t deteriorate even when the yields are high.

“There is a way to strike that balance, but you need a little patience,” Torf said.

And it’s important to keep the temperature from getting too hot when extracting for a full-spectrum hemp extract. If it gets too hot, the terpenes will evaporate, Torf said.

Similar to Tanem’s advice, Torf recommends grinding raw cannabis before extraction. The smaller the particle size, the less time it should need to extract, and more material can be placed into the machine, which increases throughput.

 

‘Fire In, Fire Out’

Knowing the type of product raw flower is destined for will have a large impact on the extraction process used. But no matter the method, every company wants to work as effectively as possible.

Sebastian Pollack, a Medford, Massachusetts-based product engineer for multistate cannabis company MariMed, uses a warm ethanol wash with a long soak to make Rick Simpson Oil, which is a full-spectrum cannabis oil.

“For that, we really try to suck everything out of that product to get the maximum total yield,” Pollack said.

He’s trying to create an oil that contains terpenes, lipids, fats and cannabinoids to provide the whole-plant experience for the consumer.

MariMed achieves consistency with that product by always using the same strain: Oro Blanco, an indica that medical marijuana patients prefer for the terpenes and cannabinoids it contains.

Like Torf and Tanem, Pollack is a proponent of paying careful attention to the plant source material.

“Fire in, fire out,” he said.

The company has a strict set of standard operating procedures to ensure the product is flowing through the facility at the correct rate and yielding the proper amount.

If the company is not getting the flower through or a machine breaks, “That’s going to be a kink in the hose,” Torf added.

To prevent slowdowns, each employee in the lab cross-trains on the various stages of the process. That way, if someone is out, another employee can step in and keep the product moving.

Pollack prefers working with mature flower that’s been dried for about four days. The drier the flower, the better the yield, he said, because water content dilutes the final product.

“We want to make sure our processes are working efficiently,” Pollack said.