Looking for more information on scaling up your cannabis or hemp extraction project? After summarizing the cannabis and hemp oil production process in part one of this blog, this second blog will look at some of the most common challenges that come with scaling up from lab to industrial.
This information is based on the first webinar in Maratek Environmental’s summer webinar series. You can view the full first webinar on the embedded video below, or you can read this blog for a summarized version of the second part of the webinar:
The challenges of scaling up new cannabis or hemp extraction projects
Here are the four major things you want to think about looking at when scaling up new cannabis or hemp extraction projects.
- Process design integration - This would be the discipline where we lay out equipment for your process, connect it together and make it all work together as one continuous system.
- Regulatory and jurisdictional issues - Dealing with ethanol and other hydrocarbons puts you in a hazardous chemical process which calls in a lot of regulations and oversight that you have to make sure you're totally compliant with to operate.
- Chemical engineering - Which is dealing with the actual physical and science challenges of scaling up each step.
- Financial risks - Which kind of ties into project management and some pitfalls that you can fall into trying to execute a larger engineering project.
#1 - Process design and integration
At a small scale you can kind of think of each piece of equipment as its own discrete thing. You kind of shop around for a rotary valve, shop around for a freezer and glassware and you can place it all in one room - and you don't necessarily need to worry too much about how they're going to work together, because at most of the very small scales it's manual transfer by a worker between steps.
It could be somebody literally carrying a glass beaker and putting it in a freezer. But when you scale up, the material handling by personnel becomes completely unfeasible. Even at a couple hundred pounds a day, biomass in, they're going to need to design part pipe connection between machines - these could be sanitary GMP connections - and that also brings in other implications - you may need holding tanks, or buffer tanks between machines, pumps, valves, those tanks would need levels.
All of this very quickly would force a basic level of cannabis and hemp extraction automation right off the bat.
#2 - Regulatory and jurisdictional issues
When you're dealing with hazardous chemical processes it brings in lots of things like: area classification, fire codes, building codes and insurance.
Basically, your process affects the building you're in, but also it affects society around you at large. Maratek has engineers in house that have decades of experience executing hazardous chemical processes so you can be confident that with the right partners you can get through this process - but it will definitely require some professional engineering services.
#3 - Chemical engineering
This gets more down to science. Besides the practical challenges of integrating processes and the regulatory challenges of getting it approved. there's basic physics we need to work with here.
A perfect example would be the surface area and volume problem, or the square cube law. We can use an example like the rotovap. You have the round bottom flask submerged in a warm bath and you're relying on transferring the heat through the surface of the flask into the ethanol side.
If we just took a rotovap and made it physically 10 times bigger, and put 10 times the heating power, it might only mean two to three times faster. That’s just because as you make that sphere bigger you have way more liquid and not that much more surface area. This is just a basic result of geometry.
There's a lot of engineering and thought that goes into dealing with problems like this. For example, we could put coils inside that volume of liquid to add more surface area. We could recirculate it from heat exchangers, quickly, just to create a much better heat transfer situation.
In engineering there's a lot of solutions to these kinds of problems and this is huge in solvent recovery where obviously we need to transfer a lot of energy to the solvent to boil it off and get your oil out of it.
#4 - Financial risks
This section is all about project management and why it's such a key aspect of making these projects go off smoothly. You've heard the adage “spend a dollar now to save a thousand later” or “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. Doing careful engineering design up front is so critical in this, for a couple of reasons.
This large custom equipment can have very long lead times and obviously the project has to move forward. Say it takes 24 weeks to get the biggest distillation machine that has ever been built (maybe you want to build a really huge flagship facility). You have to move forward with your facility before that gets delivered. That means mechanical contractors have to be putting pipe mounts in and piping in, you have to have electricians setting cable trays, you have to put refrigeration equipment in.
A lot of this challenge is the simple task of just picking up the phone that you would have a project manager coordinating. While the equipment is still a 3D model on somebody's computer, the mechanical contractor needs to be putting the pipe connection in for it to just be dropped in place. So really good management means that when equipment gets there it can be connected right away. This goes with the idea that mistakes and the cost of mistakes, scale with the cost of your project.
Having one party, or one group, become the prime contractor managing all this - it can make a huge difference. Management really is key to making these projects go smoothly.
Want to learn more about cannabis and hemp extraction, as well as scaling up your processes for increased efficiencies? Contact the Maratek team of experts today. If you missed the first part of this blog, you can find it here.