Episode 2

Published on:

29th Dec 2020

S1 E02 - Cannabis Biomass Selection And Extraction Preparation

Learn the tricks of the trade when it comes to selecting the highest quality biomass and preparing it for extraction. Jason talks to Bri Tolp of Futurola about how their shredders are the best tool for getting to your ideal mill size.


Jason Showard - 00:00:10 

Hello and welcome to Episode two of The Modern Extractor, a podcast focusing on the processes, equipment, and science found inside a cannabis extraction lab. I'm your host, Jason Showered, and I work professionally in the cannabis extraction field. If you've listened to any of the previous shows, you know that season one is focused on ethanol extraction and post-processing. And each episode focuses on a particular stage in that process following the material through the lab from start to finish. If you haven't listened to any of the previous shows, welcome to the Modern Extractor. 

Jason Showard - 00:00:40 

In today's show, we'll be talking about how to select the right biomass for extraction, as well as how to prepare that biomass for the most efficient extraction possible. We'll have Bri Tolp from Futurola on with us later in the show to talk about how their shredders are the best tool to get you to your ideal mill size. But first, let's talk a bit about how to find good material to extract from. Obviously, the easiest way to do this is to get a sample, send it to a lab, wait for the results, and then purchase material that meets the right cannabinoid concentration specs for whatever you're trying to produce. 


Jason Showard - 00:01:12 

In a perfect world, there would always be time for this and it's absolutely how it's done for the large-scale industrial operations. It's really important to buy this way if you're a CBD producer buying hemp, so that you can ensure the material is not too high in THC content. Buying hot hemp could actually cost you more in chromatography to remediate the THC from the final product than the CBD will be worth in the end. There isn't always time to wait for lab results in the procurement process. 


Jason Showard - 00:01:38 

And this is where an experienced eye can make a big difference in your bottom line. If you're at the scale where you're extracting a thousand pounds or more weekly, it's unlikely that all your biomass is coming from the same farm all year round. That means that there's likely to be a broker involved who is collecting from a bunch of different farms to sell to extractors. With that being the case, there are often many different batches of biomass added to one load. 


Jason Showard - 00:02:00 

Hopefully they're separated, often they aren't. Hopefully the broker will tell you the story behind the load, but well, brokers. And even if you trust your broker, he could have been misled. So a thorough inspection isn't rude. It's just good business. First things first. We're going to look at all the different bags. The actual physical bags that the material's inside of. Not every farm packs their material up the same way. Not every store sells the same bags. 


Jason Showard - 00:02:26 

Is there any tape on any of the bags? How are they closed or tied? This will be our first clue as to whether or not there are multiple batches in the load. If there does appear to be multiple batches, we're going to want to open and inspect a couple of bags from each. Dig down past the top and into the middle of the bag. Get a good handful, pull it out, palm up, give it a good squeeze in your hand and then let go. 


Jason Showard - 00:02:48 

Good material will stick together when you let go and keep the same basic shape it was when it was squeezed in your hand. We call this the squeeze test. After the squeeze, rub it together between your hands like you're warming up at a fire. See how crumbly it is. If it turns to dust, it's not ideal, but it'll still work if it passed the squeeze. The best-case scenario is that it breaks a little, but still some moisture content. 


Jason Showard - 00:03:09 

So it rolls around and compresses and sticks to your hands a little instead of powdering. Leaving a little of what you just rolled around in your hands. Bring both hands up to your face and get your face down in there. You know what smell you're looking for. One thing to pay attention to with the smell test is the presence of any alcohol or solvent odors. Keep your eyes open when you get your face down into your hands to give it a smell. 


Jason Showard - 00:03:30 

If your nose misses it, your eyes may water a bit in the presence of solvents. While the industry is slowly cleaning itself out and the honorable business folks are rising to the top, there are certainly some bad actors out there still in the mix. Some rascally brokers have even been known to sell material that's already been processed. This is referred to as Spun Trim. If it appears to have been processed with alcohol in a centrifuge or Blown Trim if it appears to have been run through a hydrocarbon column. I've even seen some “fresh trim” come in that still holds the shape of the column it was processed in. 


Jason Showard - 00:04:04 

This will look like little biomass hockey pucks that are usually three to six inches in diameter. There are some vapor probes you can buy for this, but I find them less reliable than these inspections. As you process material, pay attention to what your own processed material looks and feels like after it's had a chance to dry out. If it looks and acts like that, don't buy it. OK, so we've got our hands on some good quality biomass. Our lab tests came back at 12 percent. 


Jason Showard - 00:04:29 

It squeezes and smells nice and sticks to our hands and it's going to make some beautiful goldies. The next step in ensuring we get everything we can out of this material, is to make sure that it's milled to the ideal particle size. There's a bunch of machines out there that say they do this the best, and many a booth full of promises at BizCon. Extractors use everything from shredders to hammer mills, to mulchers, blenders, food processors, you name it. If it chops things up, we've tried it. 


Jason Showard - 00:04:56 

If there's one thing not lacking in this community, it's innovation and willingness to think outside the box. For about a hundred bucks at your favorite big box hardware store, you can get a Toro mulcher that'll do the trick. But it's a bit of a pain to use. When you run it forward, it's a leaf blower that blows air, and in reverse, it's a mulcher that sucks material through the metal fan blade and mulches it into a collection bag. Unfortunately, if the material's dry, it powders it up pretty well, even on the lowest setting. When the time comes to invest in a machine that mill as fast and accurately as possible, look no further than a Futurola shredder. 


Jason Showard - 00:05:29 

When choosing your desired mill size. There's a lot of factors to consider. Mill it too fine, and it will break more cell walls in the material, allowing for more chlorophyll and undesirables to be extracted. The finer the particle size, the more ethanol will be retained in the biomass after the spin cycle of your centrifugal extraction. After a run through the centrifuge, all of the ethanol that is retained in the biomass, is not only a loss of ethanol, but a loss of desirable oil that you've just dissolved into the ethanol. 


Jason Showard - 00:05:59 

This ethanol retention loss issue is often compounded by the fact that the same batch of ethanol is regularly re-chilled and used to extract from multiple batches of biomass, before being run through an evaporator and having the oil separated out of it. The process of evaporation and ethanol recovery is often a lab's biggest bottleneck. So it's a current industry standard to use one batch of ethanol to extract from multiple batches of biomass. From a solubility standpoint, there's probably room to dissolve seven or eight batches of biomass into the ethanol. 


Jason Showard - 00:06:30 

But your loss rate from the ethanol retention in the spun biomass would make this inefficient. The correct mill size for your extraction recipes is critical. You'll be able to extract slightly more with a smaller mill size because the ethanol will be able to make contact with more of the surface area of your biomass in the centrifuge. But more of the ethanol will be lost to retention in your biomass after the spin cycle. Your particle size decision should be made based on the following factors. 


Jason Showard - 00:06:57 

One, what is your evaporation capacity? If you can run your ethanol through one bag of biomass and send it off to evaporation without bottlenecking yourself at the evaporation stage, this is the best way to minimize loss of oil. However, if this is the case, you'd probably be better off buying an additional centrifuge and figuring out how to send miscella that has two or three passes on it to the evaporator. 


Jason Showard - 00:07:19 

Two, what is your cost of ethanol? If you're paying a premium for ethanol, then the ethanol loss in finely milled material will start to add up. It isn't going to make or break your operation, but it is one factor to consider when making mill-size decisions. Cost-cutting is going to become a bigger factor, with the industry heading towards larger, more streamlined operations producing more product. 


Jason Showard - 00:07:42 

Three, what is the cost and accessibility of your biomass? If you can get biomass readily and inexpensively, then the extraction efficiency may not be as important as it would be if you were paying a premium for it. If this is the case, larger particle size, that may leave a small amount of desirables behind, but won't retain as much ethanol, may be ideal. 


Jason Showard - 00:08:02 

Four, what is the demand for your finished goods? If there's an infinite demand for your finished product and as soon as it's produced, it's out the door. The goal should be to produce as much as possible, as fast as possible. That said, it may be worth the retention loss, to run your ethanol through more bags of biomass than you otherwise would so that your miscella is as rich as possible. 


Jason Showard - 00:08:23 

This will decrease evaporation time and increase your gross output. If three or more bags will be run on one batch of ethanol, keeping the mill size between a quarter-inch and five 16th inch is ideal. In my experience, a quarter-inch particle size and two centrifuge runs, on one batch of ethanol was ideal after plugging in answers to the above questions. Depending on your variables, a range between three 16th and five 16th of an inch particle size is the sweet spot. 


Jason Showard - 00:08:50 

If you're running sugar leaf trim, larger particles are OK because they aren't dense. If your biomass has dense flower in it. Smaller particles are better. The idea is to make sure the ethanol has the ability to easily flow around all the surface area of your material. Sometimes the ethanol won't penetrate and extract from the center of dense snugs if they're left too large. After your materials build to your chosen particle size, it's time to back it up for your centrifuge. 


Jason Showard - 00:09:16 

Centrifuge bags are typically made from a light nylon mesh sewn into a tube with a flat bottom and a flat zippable top. These bags allow for ethanol to flow freely through your biomass and dissolve the compounds you're extracting. But they keep all the biomass contained so that it can easily be removed from the centrifuge after it's been extracted. Examine your bags regularly and be prepared to retire bags that have holes in them. Your downstream filters will definitely thank you. It's worth noting here that if you've done a good job milling your material, there will be less stems to poke holes in your bags and they'll last longer. 


Jason Showard - 00:09:49 

Well, now that we've gone over how to select your biomass and how to choose your ideal mill size, let's talk to Bri about how Futurola's shredders could help you get there. 


Jason Showard - 00:09:57 

The Modern Extractor would like to welcome guest Bri Tolp of Futurola to the show. Welcome. We're happy to have you here today. 


Bri Tolp - 00:10:03 

Thanks, Jason. I'm happy to be here. 


Jason Showard - 00:10:06 

So Bri where are you calling in from today? 


Bri Tolp - 00:10:08 

I am calling in from sunny Los Angeles where we are, you know, in lockdown. 


Jason Showard - 00:10:15 

I am also in the Los Angeles area, and also under lockdown. But hey that gives us plenty of time to talk about Futurola. So give me a bird's eye view. Tell me what you guys do as a company. 


Bri Tolp - 00:10:25 

So Futurola actually started in '96 in Amsterdam. We were a Futurola coffee shop. Funny enough. And if you go there now you'll see Futurola rolling papers and everything in all the different coffee shops all over Amsterdam. When we first started, though, we were focused more on the consumer side of things. You know, so we did rolling papers, grinders, these really incredible hand rollers that are just really simple and easy to use. Once we decided to bring it to the US, we started pushing that same market here, grinder's, rolling papers, all these different accessories. 


Bri Tolp - 00:11:00 

But going to all these trade shows and talking to all these different companies, we realized there was, that there was really something that was lacking here. That there's all these people that are, they're producing pre-rolls and they're doing all these different things, but they don't have a solution for it. So we started building the brand, and we started coming up with ideas to make things easier, streamlined and just better for production. That's when we created the cones. That's when we came out with the Knockbox, which is the machine that does a hundred pre-rolls in two minutes, which we actually just released a new one that does three hundred in two minutes. 


Bri Tolp - 00:11:34 

That's when we developed the first shredder, which I know we'll touch base on this, you know, shortly. You know, so we really went from this consumer side of things to more of now business to business now. Where we're working with these companies to help them fulfill their pre-roll needs. 


Jason Showard - 00:11:51 

Nice. So how did the Futurola's material prep products for pre-rolls become a staple of extraction lab material prep? How did that all come about? 


Bri Tolp - 00:12:02 

So we've, we created our first shredder in 2016, and the reason why that came about is because we had, right, so we had the lockbox. So we have this incredible, easy to use, extremely affordable piece of equipment that's going to produce a hundred pre-rolls in two minutes. But we don't have a solution for them to grind up their product you know. I don't know if you know this, but I'm sure everyone listening will understand, the way to grind a product was a food processor. It worked great. It's dandy. It's cheap. You have them at home. They're easy to get. But the problem with that is that you're not getting a consistent grind. So when people were using that with the machine, they're getting powder at the bottom, thicker material at the top. And when they're using it to run in the Knockbox, it's giving them inconsistent fills. 


Bri Tolp - 00:12:49 

So they're like, you have this incredible machine, why don't you have something to go along with it? And that was really when we created the shredder and from doing that. So I joined the team in 2018 and I worked at all these different groves across California. And our first shredder that we came out with, was basically an empty barrel with almost like, they're specialized weed whacker whips. They're moving on extremely quick speed to grind up the material. It's all based on time. 


Bri Tolp - 00:13:23 

So it's about two to seven seconds on average to grind up anywhere from one to seven pounds. But it's all based on time. So depending on the time you set and the material you're working with, that'll give you different material size. Now, when I came in, we had just released the super shredder. The super shredder is the unit that has a screen built into it. That's this three millimeter screen. So that screen is going to separate the stems and separate any other thicker piece of material that you don't want in the pre-roles. 


Jason Showard - 00:13:57 

Is that super shredder the most popular one used in extraction prep? 


Bri Tolp - 00:14:03 

Yes. And the reason being because when a lot of companies that are processing material for extraction, I mean, there's all different types of material that they're using right. But for the most part, they're getting a lot of biomass. And it's not like it's just clean, beautiful pieces of broken-down material. It's, there's sticks, there's stems. There is, it needs to be cleaned up. So by being able to process it with this screen in there, that screen is separating the sticks and the stems from the good product that you want to use. So there's no other sifting process needed after. And like I said, you're doing this in two to seven seconds. 


Jason Showard - 00:14:40 

Let me stop you for a second here. What I like to try to do is when we're talking about a machine on the show, I like to picture my listeners driving or not in front of a computer so they can't just click on and see what it looks like. So let's give a description of, you said the super shredders the one that's the most popular for extraction. So, let's describe the, can you describe the whole...

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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.