Episode 8

Published on:

9th Feb 2021

S1 E08 - Devolatilization & Cannabinoid Distillation

Look no further for DISTILLATION SOPs!

Jay Horton joins us to discuss getting maximum throughput and high quality distillates out of you wiped film distillation unit. We cover specific SOPs for terpenoid removal (terp strip) and cannabinoid distillation for both THC and CBD. We discuss getting maximum throughput on a single stage machine, as well as various ways to configure your multi stage distillation unit to maximize your results. Jay's 'split the stream' technique will get you the highest quality and largest quantity yields out of your multi-stage wiper.


Jason Showard - 00:00:11 

Hello and welcome to Episode eight 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 one, we're focusing on ethanol extraction and post processing. With each episode digging deep into a particular stage in that process. The shows are released in an order that follows the workflow through lab, as material makes its way from Cultivar to concentrate. 


Jason Showard - 00:00:37 

Last week we had John Hart, founder and CEO of Chemtech Services, on the show to talk about wiped film and rolled film distillation. He broke down what's going on inside of a wiped film distillation unit and helped make some sense of it. He hit us with a ton of distillation knowledge gained through his years of experience building high tech equipment for the chemical industry. Moving on to this week's show, let's catch back up with our work in progress. So far, we've performed a cold ethanol extraction in the centrifuge. 


Jason Showard - 00:01:03 

We've cold filtered the resulting miscella through a lenticular filter. We ran the filtered miscella through a falling film evaporator to separate the oil and the ethanol. And we decarboxylated the crude oil, converting the THC A or CBD A into THC or CBD. This week we're going to get into specific SOPs for removal of the terpenoids, also known as terp stripping, followed by distillation of THC and CBD. It's a big day today guys. We're finally going to make some sellable product. 


Jason Showard - 00:01:30 

Joining me on the show today is the man that got me started distilling cannabinoids. He's usually flying around the world installing and training on Chemtech's distillation equipment, or doing some type of cannabis lab consulting. He's the founder of Genovations and quite a veteran in the cannabis lab space. Jay Horton, welcome to The Modern Extractor. 


Jay Horton - 00:01:47 

Hello, Jason. 


Jason Showard - 00:01:48 

Where are you calling in from today? 


Jay Horton - 00:01:49 

I'm currently in Los Angeles. 


Jason Showard - 00:01:51 

All right. Yeah, I'm also here in Los Angeles, still hunkering down. So I met you years ago when you installed the first wiped film unit I ever worked with, at the company I was working for. It was a Chemtech Mini 5. By the time we were done, strapping upgrades to it, it was almost KD6. Since then, you started your own company, Genovations. Tell us a little bit about how you got into the field and what the path was like to starting your own business. 


Jay Horton - 00:02:20 

OK, so in around 2006, I moved to Oregon and got into the medical program and I was doing cultivation. In around 2013, I started working with the company that was looking into CO2 extraction very early on. We went up to Washington to visit Fritz and checked out his systems, and it was some of the first ones he was making. And we did our research on waters as well, and we decided on getting a water system. So that's kind of where I transitioned from, cultivation into extraction. 


Jay Horton - 00:02:58 

From there, I moved to the Bay Area and started working with the company in Oakland doing CO2 extraction again, but on a different system. And that was my introduction to wiped film distillation as well. I started running a Chemtech that I had specked out after I did a bunch of research on different wiped film manufacturers. 


Jason Showard - 00:03:20 

So at what point did you decide, "Hey, I need a wiped film distillation unit?" 


Jay Horton - 00:03:26 

Well, I had done the research and at the time I had actually just using glass from Amazon, already distilled oil on a tabletop scale. And I didn't do much of that before I decided to start doing research to figure out how to not do much more of that. 


Jason Showard - 00:03:47 

Yeah, I feel you there. 


Jay Horton - 00:03:49 

Nothing against tabletops. And my setup was really crude because it was Amazon glass, and really tiny tubing and everything. There's cool stuff you can do on those tabletops in terms of isomerization and things. But nonetheless, I didn't want to do that because we were kind of more of a scale focused operation. So wiped film naturally was the route. I went up to Washington again to research equipment at Helderpad, I saw a demo and I told the company I was working for that was a system they should buy. 


Jay Horton - 00:04:22 

So I ran a Chemtech for a number of years. I was real hands on. Did all my own maintenance. And at one point Chemtech called me and they asked me if I could help a client who is nearby in the Bay Area. And so I went down there and I helped them out. They'd been working on days trying to figure out this problem. And I went down there and figured it out very quickly. And so then I called Chemtech and I asked them, "Hey, would you guys need any help in the field?" 



And they said, "Sure, fly out here." So I flew out there. I got factory authorized and certified to work on their equipment. And so they contract me for their installs and the clients then end up contracting me for preventative maintenance and additional training and things of that sort. 


Jason Showard - 00:05:12 

All right. Right on. When was it that you decided, you know, hey, I want to get out of the lab and I want to start a business around doing this side of the world, doing installs and teaching people? 


Jay Horton - 00:05:25 

Yeah, it all started with that call from Chemtech when they asked me to go check out this client. And at that moment, I had the idea that maybe I could make a career out of just going from place to place, helping people with their systems. At that time, I didn't even think installs would be a thing. And I was really scared at the moment to leave my regular job and branch out, start traveling around. And I did that. 


Jay Horton - 00:05:52 

I took the leap of faith. And I'm really glad I did because I discovered that I like to teach people, and I really enjoy working with all the different people that I do all the time. It's kind of like the icing on the cake. 


Jason Showard - 00:06:07 

So if that's how it all began and got you started, what are you doing these days? 


Jay Horton - 00:06:13 

So I'm still doing installs for people. Still doing preventative maintenance for people. I'm doing training for people. I'm keeping busy moving used systems around because there's a lot of activity in that sector of the market right now, you know, used systems being sold. And I'm getting contracted to either do the disassembly or the reassembly or both. 


Jason Showard - 00:06:35 

OK, what companies do you currently work for? For your installation work? So primarily, Chemtech uses me as an independent contractor to do their installs. Then from there, the clients typically contract me themselves to do training or preventative maintenance programs with them. I've also helped Interchim with installations of their chromatography columns. Occasionally Interchim will contract us because of our experience with cannabinoids. 


Jason Showard - 00:07:06 

OK, well, you've been on the front lines of the whole cannabis reform thing for a while now. In your travels, you've seen first-hand how things have changed. What are some of the biggest differences that you see in these days compared to the early days? 


Jay Horton - 00:07:22 

I would say better practices in general compared to the early days, part of that's due to regulations, and part of it's also just because people are getting real investment now. So people are building GMP facilities and things of that nature, getting food certifications. 


Jay Horton - 00:07:40 

And people are getting organic certifications from third parties, not, unfortunately, FDA, but other ones or USDA, I should say. So that's, I'd say, the primary difference that I see. You know, back in the day when I first started doing the installs, I would install these systems in some places that just weren't really what you think of when you think of, like processing facility for medicine or food grade products. You know? 


Jason Showard - 00:08:14 

Certainly I've seen a few of them. 


Jay Horton - 00:08:17 

I'm sure you have. 


Jason Showard - 00:08:20 

So last week we talked to John Hart from Chemtech and we learned about how their rolled film distillation systems work. But this week I'd like to get a little more specific about the SOPs for cannabinoid distillation. Considering you're the person that started me down this path, I figure there's nobody better to talk to you than you about it. So let's get into how to turn the decarbed crude that we have so far in our process, into the distillate that we're looking for. 


Jason Showard - 00:08:50 

Right now, let's start with THC. And for the sake of simplicity, let's just say that we've got a one stage machine in front of us. One stage Chemtech rolled film machine. What are your go to SOPs when you walk up to a new batch of starting material? 


Jay Horton - 00:09:05 

OK, so typically in a perfect world, that batch is also going to come with a COA. And that COA is going to tell you what your terpene content is and what your cannabinoid content is. 


Jay Horton - 00:09:19 

If you don't have a COA, you're kind of flying blind. In general, I'd say a lot of ethanol extract has around 10% terpenes left in it after solvent recovery. It's kind of an average number. But, you know, butane or CO2 could have more. But we're talking about ethanol extract today and on average, that's 10%. But ideally, you actually have a COA to tell you exactly what percentage of terpenes by volume are left in your extract. So you actually know what to look for, and your ratio once you start distilling. 


Jay Horton - 00:09:52 

So that said, for a terpene strip. I typically will have my feed tank around 100 Celsius, my residue temperature around 130C. My evap temperature around 170C. My condenser around 35C. And the reason why I say around is because especially if you don't have a COA, and you're just flying blind based on consistency in your facility, then you will be relying a little bit on intuition and visual cues. Right. So you might bump up the evap a little bit. 


Jay Horton - 00:10:31 

Or if this material's residue wants to freeze, you might bump up your residues section. Vacuum wise, I'd like to stay in between about 500 to 1,500 micron. I'll go higher, I'll go up to 5,000 if I put some material in there. And it's just really volatile because there's a ton of terps left in it and I don't feel like running slow. Then I'll just bump up my evap and I'll push that upper limit. But usually I'm terp tripping 500 to 1,500 micron. And wiper speed, 400. 


Jason Showard - 00:11:07 

All right. Now when you say you're running fast, what kind of, what do you mean by fast? 


Jay Horton - 00:11:15 

So essentially what I do is, I have these vacuum ranges I like to stay within. And if I start feeding material and my vapor pressure hasn't bumped me up to my upper limit, then I'll continue to increase my feed and my evap so I could run faster. 


Jason Showard - 00:11:32 

Gotcha, gotcha. All right, your SOPs for 170 there are fairly on the, I'd say on the high range for most of the people that I talk to about terp strip. If you're going to go an evap temp of 170, at some point, you've got to be feeding pretty fast into that in order to not overdo it, right? 


Jay Horton - 00:11:59 

You're absolutely correct. It's all relative, it's about residence time. The faster that you can feed material through the call and the faster it pushes other oil through, so the less residence time it has on the heated surface. So although you may have a bath that tells you 170, that might not necessarily be the temperature that the oil gets to, depending on its residence time. Now, that said, the reason why I like to run hotter than most people will on a terpene strip is because from my observations. 


Jay Horton - 00:12:31 

Over the years, I've noticed that if you do an aggressive terpene strip, you can remove majority of terpenes and you might get a tiny bit of canna. This allows you to go into your cannabinoid pass and get 90% cannabinoids in a single pass.  


Jay Horton - 00:12:51 

Whereas people who don't go aggressive enough with their terp strip, typically have to do two cannabinoid passes in order to get the potency that the market kind of calls for now. 


Jason Showard - 00:13:03 

Yeah, absolutely. That's one of the things that when we were first getting started, you told me basically reach in there until you're pulling just a little bit of distillate over. And that way you're guaranteed that you've got the majority, or that you've got all of your terpenes out. Because you're already reaching in to that cannabinoid fraction. And then in addition to getting higher purity, your vacuum levels are so much better on your next pass when you're going through your distillate run. 


Jay Horton - 00:13:34 

Absolutely. And not only that, what a lot of people don't realize is that even in a short path distillation system, even on an aggressive terpene strip up to the point that you've pulled a little bit of cannabinoids, you probably still haven't removed, I can actually say almost guaranteed you haven't removed a 100% of the terpenes. Because then when you go to do your canna cut, and you have a hot condenser, which we'll get into later, any terpenes that are left in there will show up in your cold trap. 


Jay Horton - 00:14:02 

And on average I see 1% on the canna cut show up in the cold trap. So that just goes to show you that there's heavy terpenes in there that to reflux even in a short path. Which is one reason, side note, I prefer to terp strip on a short path with a lower vapor port specifically, and not on like a rolled film with an external condenser upper vapor port. Because those terpenes are that much more difficult to remove in a single pass. 


Jay Horton - 00:14:32 

And then you're putting more terpenes into your first canna cut, which should be your only canna cut ideally. And you're making it more difficult to achieve a potency on your first canna cut. 


Jason Showard - 00:14:44 

OK, let's talk a little bit about one of the things that people bring up to me when I start talking about reaching into that canna cut, just a little bit on your terp strip, is they don't want the loss. Now I came up with a little bit of a way to get that back. I'm curious to hear what yours is. What do you do when you've got some distillate in your terpene fraction that you have separated out? 


Jay Horton - 00:15:12 

OK, I'm really glad you asked that, because usually when I talk about an aggressive terp strip, people talk about that loss. Well, essentially, let's say that you do an aggressive terp strip to the point that you send those terpenes off for analysis. It comes back 20% canna in there, which is kind of high for an aggressive terp strip. That's still only 2% of the entire volume. And I'm not saying that you want to ignore 2% because you still don't lose it. 


Jay Horton - 00:15:40 

You simply shelf it, put it into living inventory. You can let time do the work for you if you want, or you could put it in a centrifuge to speed things up. And essentially the oil will drop out to the bottom. You could literally decant the terps just by simply pouring them off the top. You'll scoop out what's left in there, which is usually kind of sludgy because it's a combo of the canna with some of the heaviest terps. 


Jay Horton - 00:16:04 

And you could re-terp strip that and re-distil that. Now, at a rate like we discussed, let's just say high end, 20%. It's going to take a lot of those jars of terpene before you even have one jar of canna. And here's another very valid point. And you've talked about this before in the sense of biomass, where you kind of have to think about your efficiency. Right. In terms of grinding, in terms of everything. 


Jay Horton - 00:16:34 

Some people may be more efficient if they're able to do a single terp strip and a single canna pass and ignore that 2% until a rainy day. Then they can pull it back out and they can squeeze it for whatever they are, whatever they need to get out of it. Whatever they can get out of it. 


Jason Showard - 00:16:53 

Yeah, what I ended up doing was, I when we first talked about getting aggressive with the terp strip, I think I took that a little bit farther than you had intended for me to take that after

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About the Podcast

The Modern Extractor
Professional extractors talk extraction!
The Modern Extractor is a podcast about the processes, equipment, and science found inside a cannabis extraction laboratory. Season one focuses on the process of ethanol extraction and post processing into either distillate or isolate. Season two focuses on hydrocarbon extraction and the craft concentrates that it can produce. Each episode digs deep into a particular stage in the extraction and finishing processes, and we discuss the various approaches with industry expert guests. Episodes are released in an order which follows the work flow through a lab, following material closely through the process from cultivar to concentrate.