80 years ago the passage of the Marihuana Tax Act of 1937 ended industrial hemp crop cultivation, processing, and end-product production in the US.
Growing hemp here was effectively banned.
With that legislation, a formerly robust economic driver was sidelined for decades, moving growth and research of the crop over to the sidelines as well.
Meanwhile, countries like China moved full speed ahead, developing and refining both crops and processing technologies for the hemp oil extraction industry.
History of hemp as an agricultural product in the USA
From the thirties to the sixties, the U.S. Government recognized that industrial hemp and marijuana were both distinct varieties of Cannabis Sativa.
And both have THC but in vastly different amounts.
Marijuana is the variety with a high concentration of THC and hallucinogenic properties that are activated when ingested or smoked.
Hemp the variety with very little THC has been grown as a workhorse agricultural crop, capable of producing a wide range of finished products with great utility.
Historically, it has produced valuable finished products such as:
- building materials
No longer a controlled substance
Fast forward to the start of the 21st century.
In 2018 a new USDA Farm Bill was passed, and it removed hemp as a listed controlled substance and paved the way for modern hemp cultivation and processing.
A stipulation that the federal government imposed, however, is that hemp production is limited to harvest from crops grown that have less than 0.3% THC by dry weight.
The decriminalization threw both the agricultural and manufacturing sectors into a tailspin as they scrambled to readjust, refocus, and consider growing hemp, the hot new crop with a bright new future.
As a result of the Farm Bill, many states have been encouraged to enact policies fostering the cultivation, processing, and production of medicinal and therapeutic uses of cannabidiol, commonly known as CBD Oil.
Ultimately, hemp for CBD oil is storming the market
Why is hemp an important crop?
Potential for pain management
The hemp oil extraction industry has grown rapidly in the last few years as hemp oil for medicinal use has gained in popularity.
In the 1990s through the 2000s, the widespread prescribing of opioids for pain relief had an unintended consequence: Rapid onset addiction occurred for many people managing pain.
After their scripts ran out, some of these people turned to heroin obtained on the street because, unfortunately, they had developed an addiction.
Patients will always seek out pain management, but because opioid addiction as a response to pain management and the troubling addictions that ensued were widely covered in the press, the medical field dialed back on the easy dispense of scripts for opioids in response to public outcry.
This newly conservative approach to pain management gave rise to a need for alternative pain management options, with alternatives becoming a hot button issue.
Enter CBD Oil, which has been identified as having promise as an alternative option for pain management.
A lucrative market
Financial analysts peg the hemp oil and CBD oil industry (with multiple verticles) as developing into a multi-billion dollar business over the next decade.
According to financialnewsmedia.com, “writers believe that as the cannabis industry evolves, it will become fragmented, with various companies specializing in separate parts of the vertical market… just like other verticals in other industrial markets.
They predict that companies focusing solely on cannabis extraction will end up being an increasingly important subsection of the overall industry.”
The growing popularity of ethanol for extracting quality oil
As the demand for extraction grows, the hemp oil extraction industry increasingly turn to ethanol as the most efficient, economical, and safest extraction method.
Ethanol on the most fundamental level doesn’t create the kinds of pressures other means offers, and it’s flammable, but not as flammable as other solvents.
It has high yield rates and produces an extremely pure end product. It is efficient and safe to handle but as an effective extraction solvent, pure ethanol is quite expensive.
That’s why an extraction system that allows manufacturing processors to recover a large percentage of solvent to be reused many times over is highly sought after.
Scalable methods that both employ ethanol and remove inefficient bottlenecks while recovering sizable portions of solvent are desirable.
This enables large scale product manufacturers to produce quickly, and effectively, recovering ethanol and saving massive amounts of time and money.
Advanced manufacturing for the purest grade oil
In order to process the high-value hemp oil in demand for commercial grade CBD oil, with minimal degradation, and in large quantities, ethanol evaporator equipment designed at scale is increasingly in demand.
This means there is a tremendous need for qualified engineering and manufacturing firms.
Typically, those that are succeeding are OEM’s that have experience in AG and Industrial Engineering and have engineered and fabricated equipment for other agricultural and food line production clients.
Need for experienced engineers
When processing oil at an industrial level, companies need a team of engineers within an advanced manufacturing company that understands all the angles and that has experience!
They must be able to muster the chemical, electrical, and mechanical engineering skills required to create the components needed in a piece of equipment that works end to end, coping with all the variables that occur during the extraction process.
A solid firm can consult and not only about an individual piece of evaporation equipment.
They will also be able to advise and consult about the issues that impact the overall capacity of the business so that every aspect of engineering and the manufacture of the entire production is factored:
- How will the manufacturer store the ethanol used in the evaporation process in compliance with NFPA requirements.
- What local permits, planning, engineering, and compliance will be needed.
- What are the space requirements at the facility that might impact the size of the equipment relevant to capacity?
- What does the manufacturer need engineering wise to be in compliance OSHA-side, and with local and state fire marshals and building inspectors?
- Facilities and infrastructure should be engineered in compliance with NFPA special case for flammable liquids and gasses processing.
A T-SEC partner
Ceres Technologies, internationally respected, uses equipment on loan from T-SEC
One Hudson Valley Advanced manufacturer, Ceres Technologies, is building out equipment for use in the ethanol extraction and evaporation process for large scale commercial enterprises.
In doing so, it relies on a highly specialized piece of equipment on loan from T-SEC known as a helium leak detector. In this case, specifically, the piece of equipment is an Infinicon UL1000 Mobile Helium Leak Detector, designed to meet the most demanding industrial leak detection applications.
A helium leak detector, also known as a Mass Spectrometer Leak Detector (MSLD), locates and measures leaks into or out of a system or containing device, like the piping used in the manufacture of the CBD oil hemp evaporator.
By using helium which is pumped through the part, and hooking it up to the MSLD, small and large leaks are dectected. Helium as a tracer gas is preferred because it finds leaks quickly, is non-toxic, and chemically inert.
Hemp crops for CBD oil processing and production require large scale evaporation and extraction equipment on an industrial level in order to produce the large quantities in demand.
T-SEC provides businesses free access to Testing and Characterization equipment like the MSLD. Learn more.
Solvent recovery and CBD oil equipment production: the basics
The equipment Ceres is manufacturing works with an extraction process where raw hemp (biomass) is processed in a vat of ethanol. The extracted crude oil that results after a period of steeping includes the CBD oil and other substances.
For a final product of relatively pure CBD oil, an evaporator is loaded with roughly five gallons of ethanol-treated impure oil.
Once inside the evaporator, the ethanol oil liquid passes through a chamber of tubes enveloped in a steam jacket.
The heat from the steam jacket spurs the evaporation of the ethanol and the oil (with some ethanol remaining) accumulates in another chamber, now transformed into a vapor stream.
This vapor stream further moves through tubing continuously evaporating the ethanol; at a certain point it accumulates and subsequently a stream, or vapor trail, shoots over to a big chamber known as a centrifugal separator.
A centrifugal separator is a piece of equipment that uses centrifugal force, the force of gravity, and inertia to separate two or more materials. Centrifugal separators work by spinning the material in a chamber at high speed which causes the heavier materials to settle out separately from the lighter materials.
The centrifugal force in the separator removes any additional mist that may be in the vapor trail which then moves into a final chamber enveloped with coils filled with coolant. The ethanol then condenses from vapor form and the ethanol is then captured and recirculated so that the ethanol is reused.
A core technology of Ceres’ business as an advanced manufacturer
Joe Gordon, a University of Berkley trained physicist, and Ceres’ operations manager briefed us on the business when we visited Ceres’ campus recently.
“The core technology of Ceres’ business is the material transport of liquids and gases and being able to supply equipment with the right type of very pure gas,” he explained.
“We make equipment that takes the material, and sometimes the material comes in a solid form sometimes it comes in liquid form, and we engineer it so that we can convert that material into a gaseous stream in order to use them in different types of process equipment.
“We do a lot of work making semiconductor equipment and other types of process equipment.”
“And the evaporator is actually very similar to what we normally do with semiconductor equipment, just scaled to a different industry.”
“At Ceres, we manufacture all of our piping which is high purity piping. This experience fits in perfectly with what is needed for a solvent recovery system for processing CBD oil.”
“It’s also what you need when you’re dealing with a food type substance or a pharmaceutical type substance,” he explained.
All the welding at Ceres is done under class 100 cleanroom conditions, all high purity piping, all high purity flanges, and sanitary flanges.
Because of decades of experience working across different sectors, Ceres has developed flexibility in their core technologies to serve a variety of different marketplaces, or to meet the needs of a new one!
Shipping all over the country
“We are shipping our CBD oil solvent recovery system all over the country, like down to Nashville to an old tobacco farm there that they have repurposed as a hemp farm,” Joe said.
“We’ve got one going to Reno and one going to Texas, and also one going to Peru. People all over the world need large scale extraction capability.”
“A lot of what the industry has been doing has been based on things that are lab scale.”
“Now that the laws have been passed legalizing CBD, all the farmers are growing pretty large quantities and this equipment is really aimed at providing the type of equipment that people need in order to produce and purify the amount of product that is being produced today.”
“So a lot of the systems are doing like five or 10 liters per hour,” Joe explained.
From concept to completion
“When the client comes to us from concept to completion we start by basically talking about the different technical paths that could be reached.”
“How do you evaporate it? There are different types of evaporators and different sizes you can use. We basically go through those options with them.”
“On this particular evaporator, we did most of the engineering on it and we did all the thermodynamic calculations.”
“We calculate and engineer how much heat will be needed to raise the temperature up to evaporate the solvent, how much surface area is required.”
“We calculate similarly how much cooling will be needed.”
“A unit like this will require a 65-ton chiller unit to be able to cool it down. When you are boiling five gallons of ethanol a minute from liquid to vapor form. That takes a huge amount of energy. At Ceres calculating and engineering to those kinds of specifications and coming up with the appropriate solutions is what we are known for,” he finished.
Ceres Technologies is interested in new clients for the manufacture of hemp oil extraction equipment as well as any other kind of process engineering needs and opportunities. To learn more and to contact them, visit here!