Interview Conducted by Jason S. Lupoi, Ph.D.
In this line of work, you quickly learn that everyone has an opinion on which extraction method is best. Those against hydrocarbon extraction talk about safety and residual solvent risks. I recently spoke with Joe Kookoothe of Melting Point Extracts (MPX) in Arizona to discuss why he and his colleagues use hydrocarbon extraction and what qualities of hydrocarbon-derived extracts most appeal to MPX.
“Everyone does indeed have an opinion on which method is best,” Joe said. “When I first started extractions, I was fortunate enough to have a carbon dioxide (CO2) machine and a hydrocarbon system. We also played with rosin and with ethanol, but for our situation, hydrocarbon took over the primary method for two reasons.
“Reason one was that it captured the essential oils exactly as they were when you went into the grow room and smelled those flowers alive. It was exactly what we were trying to capture. Reason two is that we could get those results more efficiently than any other method. CO2 took several more hours to run and produced an orange or reddish color that resembled hydrocarbon extractions of old trim. Ethanol extractions are more for distillate cartridges rather than boutique dabbing products.
As far as those concerned about safety and residual solvents, I believe that all methods can produce clean results when done properly.”
I asked Joe what he gets from a molecular or organoleptic perspective that he may not get with ethanol or CO2.
“Hydrocarbon gives us a specific range of the hash spectrum that isn’t as easily obtained with ethanol or CO2,” he responded. “Ethanol is a great solvent for extracting the entire hash spectrum, because when making cartridges, you want to start with the most available crude. But even a quick wash of biomass with cold ethanol will likely dissolve more compounds than I would prefer in my hydrocarbon extract. In other words, it’s too aggressive for capturing the essence of the cultivar.
“CO2 also seems to be too aggressive because, at least with my results, I only produced deep orange or red oil. To me, it’s similar to when hydrocarbon hash is oxidized or denatured somehow. My nose and dabbing experiences tell me that it’s not equal to hydrocarbons. I’m willing to concede that certain CO2 extractors out there can make their CO2 extracts smell and taste great, but I doubt that they can create them with the same ease and throughput as a hydrocarbon system.”
Given the perpetual conversations surrounding the safety of hydrocarbon extraction, I asked Joe how he maintains effective safety controls on a daily basis.
“It’s important to have regulations and testing requirements,” Joe answered. “The states need to mandate the production facility is up to code — C1D1 booths, proper valves, fittings, fire inspections, safety courses — all of those things should be in place.
“On a daily basis, the operator needs to inspect the fittings, gaskets, clamps, and especially the clamp nuts which get turned and used frequently. Any sign of wear in these parts should require the operator to replace the part. This actually goes for any extraction method, though. Also, maintenance logs should be used for servicing equipment such as pumps and ovens. Everything is expensive, so preventative maintenance can prevent safety issues and other headaches like that further down the road.”
With so many states legalizing cannabis, and many producers weighing options for extraction, I asked Joe what advice he could offer a novice hydrocarbon extractor regarding what they should understand and prepare for prior to running the equipment.
“I always suggest that a novice create a checklist regarding how to begin each run. The checklist may vary from operator to operator, but the intention is to inspect various points along the system to ensure everything is set up the way they expect it to be. Is my tank vacuumed down? Are my hoses connected? Is my solvent tank topped off? Have I reset my valves? These types of questions put together on a checklist can help keep the operator safe and the runs consistent. I also try to encourage cleaning up messes as they are made. I hate a dirty lab.”
Switching gears, I wanted to learn more about Joe’s thoughts on sustainability and hydrocarbon extraction. While certifications like organic or cGMP are not associated with this type of extraction, recycling solvents provides one way to achieve greater sustainability. Irrespective of how a product is certified, extraction companies should do whatever they can to augment sustainable practices.
“Hydrocarbon solvent is very recyclable,” Joe responded. “The idea behind a closed-loop system is to use the solvent again and again. If for some reason, though, the solvent becomes contaminated either visually or if it takes on a smell, the operator can pump it back into the storage tank and return it to the hydrocarbon supplier.” Joe reached out to his hydrocarbon supplier to see what they do with returned product, if and when something gets contaminated. At the time of this writing, he unfortunately hadn’t heard back.
Innovation, either pillaged from other industries or novel to the cannabis trade, is a modern way of life. I asked Joe how hydrocarbon extraction equipment has evolved over the past few years.
“Hydrocarbon equipment has evolved in a few ways, mainly via the equipment growing in size,” Joe replied. “Manufacturer innovations are coming with bigger and better chillers, more efficient designs for solvent flow, better filtration designs, and faster solvent recovery. The systems seem to be more configurable than ever and flexible for operators to make a variety of products. But the same principles apply — clean solvent washes over cold biomass which then returns to the beginning while the operator has a choice of filters in line with the system.”
Misconceptions abound in the cannabis trade, which can provoke a dizzying, uneasy feeling. I asked Joe for his thoughts regarding the biggest misconception of hydrocarbon extraction. What does everyone get wrong about the method?
“I think one of the biggest misconceptions about hydrocarbon extraction is how much control the extractor has over the process,” Joe answered. “Sure, there are different parameters that he or she can adjust, but at the end of the day, we are simply removing the oil from the plants we’re given. If we’re given plants that were carefully grown and handled, the results will be great. But if it’s trim that sat in the back of a hot delivery van for a week, don’t expect the extractor to magically make the oil fresh again. You get out what you put in.”