Beyond Isolate

titlebeyondhemp

(This article originally appeared in Extraction Magazine and provides an introduction/overview of the ongoing diversification of hemp-derived ingredients)

The Future of Hemp Ingrediants

By Emmett McGregor, CEO of SciPhy Systems

Shifting markets are leading end product manufacturers in the industrial hemp space to be more discerning in their purchasing practices. Isolate, long the king of the ingredients market due to relative standardization and ease of use in formulation, is now facing more regulatory uncertainty as the US Food and Drug Administration makes vague but threatening statements. Just as in the broader dietary ingredient markets, pressure is mounting for standardization and product differentiation for hemp extracted ingredients.

What ingredients will tomorrow’s market favor? Will crude be king? Is THC-free the only way to be?

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When is Crude not Crude?

Already favored by some major players seeking to emphasize the medicinal or nutritional attributes of hemp extract as an ingredient, “crude” is the true “full spectrum” extract. Viewed as truer to the plant and more effective by purist companies, crude extract is the natural choice for manufacturers seeking to leverage the science and the marketing momentum of the medical cannabis market. The “entourage effect” popularized by Dr. Ethan Russo is often evoked by these companies, and for good reason; hemp’s potential chemical synergies are equally compelling and shrouded in mystery.

In a market where every ingredient starts with crude extract and the results vary from thick waxy pastes to clear golden oil, the business-to-business market faces many challenges in making crude extract a go-to option for product manufacturers. For most consumers, the use of crude hemp extract in products comes with two big downsides: flavor and aroma. Often astringent and ever pungent, most crude hemp extracts have more in common with pine tar than the boutique golden oils favored by THC aficionados. But it doesn’t have to be that way as a new wave of Sweet Crude is on its way to the market.

If crude is becoming a more standard ingredient in 2020, producers and consumers need to know what it takes to make it great. Initially, the quality of any extract starts with the feedstock. Extracting from botanicals that are high in the target compounds and low in extraneous adulterants is the best way to assure a crude extract is high quality. Beyond that here are some key factors:

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Genetic Stock

In the industrial hemp space, low delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) concentrations are key to producing high value crude, however cultivars high in terpenes and cannabidiol (CBD) are better for producing a potent broad-spectrum extract. A new wave of breeders using advanced genetic and chemical markers and big data analysis are rapidly changing the face of the hemp industry. Tomorrow’s market will feature a new wave of oils high in cannabichromene (CBC), cannabigerol (CBG), and a host of other compounds that are high value and just waiting to build a new boom of specialty products. At the same time, as these new innovations in agronomy gain traction, the hemp ingredients market will become more complex as buyers face a choice of not only how refined an ingredient they are looking for, but also what combination of compounds they are seeking and in what proportion.

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Harvest

While specialty combines are making their mark on the market, fully equipped with self-driving tractors, the art of a fine cure has long marked the difference between cheap, undesirable cannabis and connoisseur grade botanicals. However, in big industry, speed is king. Everything from giant rotary driers the size of cement mixers to enormous kilns previously reserved for drying wooden planks have found their way into what may be the most rapidly growing service segment of the hemp business. Fast drying enormous loads of hemp is viewed as a panacea for farmers with thousands of acres of fields planted and nowhere to hang the crop. Yet, even as these new technologies come to bare, full spectrum “Sweet Crude” producers get higher value by extracting plants that have dried and cured more slowly using methods long established in the smokable cannabis and hashish manufacturing realm.

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Extraction: Some Like it Cold

It seems like the majority of companies are using ethanol to extract their hemp, yet a room temperature soak in a giant kettle often yields a black, tarry crude that is anything but appetizing. One common approach to improve the quality of crude extract is to use low temperature solvent. As with winterization, the cost of chillers or cryogenic gas for these operations is substantial. 

Certain solvents, butane and propane most common among them, can auto-refrigerate, chilling by evaporation of a portion of the solvent, often under vacuum. This principal, along with their good selectivity for cannabinoids, points to an emerging renaissance in the application of these solvents to extraction at scale as the long-term costs of alcohol extraction become ever more apparent. Large scale use of these solvents is common throughout many industries. With support from established engineering firms, implementation of safe and efficient manufacturing systems under existing national fire code are sure to become accepted across the country.

Rumors of giant propane extractors with holding tanks the size of silos are common, while it is certain that large, established hexane extraction plants are retooling their operations to extract and refine hemp with a brute force approach more common to bulk corn oil and wheat germ than finer ingredients. It is very clear that the extraction trends of today are facing enormous changes in the market of tomorrow.

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Filtration and Dewaxing

Dense waxes and dark color are the most commonly removed portion of crude. New approaches such as the use of membrane-based filtration at pressures above 600 psi [1], and multi-solvent based miscella refining developed by organic chemists [2] are set to gain market share as they do not require chillers the size of trucks. Simultaneously, great excitement and enthusiasm has been gaining in the cannabis space for newly applied approaches to filtration and adsorption. So called Color Remediation Cartridge (CRC) technology has been developed on an open-source basis to produce near colorless extracts for the recreational and medical markets. [3] These same approaches, applying adsorption media such as silica and clays to in-solvent processing and filtration of the oil, are certain to become common and even further refined in the industrial hemp space. There is strong potential to utilize these methods to take room temperature solvent extracts and refine them to sweet crude, but at a price, both monetary and through losses of CBD and other desired molecules.

Conclusion: Beyond Isolate

Regardless of which methods are being employed, the forecast is clear: consumers and producers alike are witnessing a rapid evolution of the market with a bent towards efficiency, standardization, specialization, and scale, and part of that shift is moving to using new products. Crystallized, isolated CBD, briefly the hottest commodity in the space, can no longer be viewed as the be all end all of the hemp ingredients market space. New and exciting trends are always emerging, from new forms of chromatography to the looming prospect of biosynthetic cannabinoid manufacturing, which will change the face of the purified cannabinoid market. Simultaneously though, we believe that new methods used to create and refine crude and broad-spectrum extracts are going to redefine the landscape of hemp-derived ingredients in 2020.

 

References

 

[1] General Electric, “Cross Flow Filtration Method Handbook,” cdn.gelifesciences.com

[2] Thomas, R. and Ridlehuber, J., “Miscella Refining,” Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society, 1968, Volume 45(5): A254-A295. [journal impact factor = 1.72; cited by N/A]

[3] Wilcox, A. “Celebrate 710 with the Aficionado Guide to Cannabis Concentrates,” Cannabis Aficionado, posted July 10, 2019; accessed on October 17, 2019. 

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