The Processing Industry's Dirty Secret

What if you could save money and gain a unique edge on the competition? When it comes to energy efficiency, there is a fresh opportunity to do both. At SciPhy systems one of the things we see less attention towards in the field is the effects of energy consumption, and there are both ideas and practices that should be explored as you consider building or scaling a facility. If energy efficiency is a secret in processing it's mostly because businesses simply aren’t considering it forcefully enough. If it’s dirty its because money is lost and sustainability is left on the table.

We moderated an internal discussion with Emmett McGregor, our CEO and product innovator, and Jen Pelosi our Operations Manager then extracted some insights and ideas about energy efficiency that we think can be helpful when considering how to run your business.


What Is the Current State of Energy Efficiency?

In our conversation we discussed a rough breakdown of a facility processing between 2,000-5,000 pounds of hemp biomass to crystalline hemp isolate per day. Rest assured that our calculations will be accurate when specifying and installing your next processing solution, but here we will determine figures in a casual sense.

  1. If we just look at energy efficiency from the standpoint of using mechanical chillers it's easy to think with an extractor a business might use about 100 to 150 amps of 480 power to chill the extractor. With a fairly standard winterization protocol we can assume similar or up to double those figured. That is between 200 and 400 amps of service right there.
  2. Solvent recovery is harder to calculate because there is a boiler and a cooling tower for thermal control, and the regional and seasonal variation on how efficiently these utilities will perform, not to mention the rapid development of this part of the field which shifts energy needs unpredictably, but we can say conservatively you are going use 60 to 120 amps.
  3. For distillation at 10L/hr you’re going to use possibly 40 amps per heater and then your chiller is another 20 so it's easy to get reach 120 amps in this stage.
  4. And then crystallization has needs for cooling and vacuum pumps. All together it's easy for a facility to eat up 800 to 1200 amps of 480 service.
  5. At a median of 3000 pounds per day that will conservatively generate a 10% yield of oil and 50% of that to isolate we will see about 150 pounds of isolate. For these purposes let's assume 70 kilograms.
  6. We will now use a median power consumption from our earlier figures of 800 amps. This results in 600 kilowatts per 20 hours of operation. This does not include power for HVAC, packaging, product or feedstock cold storage, or non-process related electrical systems.

Our final ~figure is (approximately) 80 kilowatt hours per kilogram of isolate.

In case you were wondering, this is a substantial energy consumption standard. Or as Jennifer Pelosi our Operations Manager said in our session, "absolutely awful!" So, there is the state of things in a very rough approximation. Yet, in our experience, very very few if any processors, either in operation or about to enter it, are considering energy consumption to be even a low-level priority.


Why Change?

In terms of consumer product manufacturers, energy consumption is a notorious hidden cost. Unless the product formularies are performing a footprint analysis on the product it is unlikely that the carbon footprint of the ingredients will be known by that business, much less the end consumer. The separate ingredients of most products rarely get analyzed. Recently, however, the marketing power of transparency and supply chain narratives have proven demonstrable results in propelling sales for companies such as Kashi, Cliff Bar, and other health foods and nutritional supplement manufacturers.

Yet, there are some serious benefits to turning the mirror and looking at what can be done to lessen energy expenditure. Our opinion is that some companies are going to want to get ahead of the competition on this question. Not only for sustainability, but for the bottom line. Companies that can provide specific and accurate documentation of their carbon footprint will be able to command a premium for their ingredients. Furthermore, in some states tax credits, subsidies, and cost offsets exist for companies which can document the cost of “business as usual” and the price of energy saving facilities upgrades, allowing them to reap the rewards of higher efficiency and marketability at a substantially reduced cost of implementation.

Also, ultimately it our opinion that the canna market uniquely has both the creativity and the passion to innovate ahead of other industries in sustainability if it so chooses. But the choice comes down to the businesses themselves.


Low Hanging Fruition

  • In our discussion we moved towards looking at some clear core ways that energy efficiency can be tackled, and why. The first thing we are looking at is finding a better way to dewax extracts, an energy intensive process relying heavily on thermal control. This is a process that many creative technicians and technology developers are focusing on, and as the science progresses across the field so will the energy savings.
  • The next idea is moving towards hydrocarbon extraction in the hemp space because it is generally less energy intensive. There is a multilateral push across the kinds of vendors you should be engaging to push the development of this technology. We are a happy part of that vanguard.
  • Another point is to look at solvent recovery solutions. This is an ongoing process, and there has been some success in the field, but it is more expensive. We have seen that where this innovation is taking place, the actual cost only goes up a marginal amount on the kilogram of isolate.
  • But along with these pushes for innovation in equipment, there is another area to consider, which is installation of electrical infrastructure. There are increasing and powerful opportunities for saving when speccing the development of the facility itself, if energy savings became a bigger priority of processors.


Towards the Future of the Field

When looking at the move towards energy conservation, it will undeniably become an increasing priority for all large scale processors, as it is for all major industrial sectors. If the inevitability is real, and on the time scale of decades it undoubtedly is, how do we move forward? As mentioned, a big part of it is the technology itself and the development of facilities. But there are other things to consider. In states like Oregon and California, from the top level there are upfront benefits from energy trusts, and upgrades are incentivized because some of the cost can be reclaimed. Hopefully this motivator will be applied across more existing and emerging markets.

But what is our our immediate answer on how to move forward?

If you are already in operation, overhauling your existing your facility is a far fetched kind of goal that isn't realistic for most fast-paced and engaged processing businesses. The best thing you can probably do is conduct an energy audit. This is a low hanging goal that has multiple ancillary effects on your business, and can even serve as a marketing moment for your company. In 2019, think about this prospect.

But if you are planning a scaleup or a are about to go into business, you might consider looking at technology options and facility development that aims at saving cost and increasing energy efficiency.


Conclusion: Steps Forward

At SciPhy Systems we have a north star of transparency, and we will be the first to say that we, like the industry, are making more formative steps towards these concepts. But in 2019, as we think about our place in the industry, the industry as a whole, and the world at large, we are dedicated to engaging the process of working on energy efficiency for the good of our clients and the world.

Our first step? The same we recommended above: energy audits for ongoing projects. Beyond that we will be working with other vendors and partners to push forward the field and save money and energy.

Look out for more tactical advice on energy consumption as we work on a series to be released over time, and sign up for our newsletter if you would like to learn more about our business and get the drop on new discoveries and ideas.