Cannabis extracts in an open glass container

A Greener Extract: Transformative Sustainability Opportunities for Cannabis Processors

The cannabis processing sector has a huge opportunity to step up on sustainability, both because it’s the right thing to do for people and the planet, and because it’s smart for bottom lines.

While the cultivation sector has focused on electrical demand of grow facilities, processing and extraction has largely avoided addressing bloated energy use. 

While acres of 1000 watt HPS lights are a clear energy sink in cultivation, the power use of extractors, dewaxing operations, solvent recovery, and crystallization are more opaque and less obvious. 

As a result, it may surprise many to learn that even medium sized processing operations often use millions of kilowatt hours of electricity per year. Where is all that energy going? 

How Demand Impacts Bottom Lines? 

Simply put, heating and cooling are the culprits, and hundreds of thousands of dollars could be on the line.

Processors frequently require substantial swings in temperature to create quality extracts. Ethanol extractors regularly bring their solvent down to -40C before introducing it to biomass. Then, it’s held at temperatures that can be even lower for hours or even days to separate the waxes from the cannabinoids. 

These temperatures are twice as cold as a typical freezer and therefore require substantially more energy to maintain. Still, this isn’t often the greatest energy sink in the process.

Cannabis Processing’s Main Energy Sink 

The real electricity hog in a processing facility is distillation. 

The energy needed to bring tincture from -40C up to the boiling point of the solvent is a fraction of the energy it takes to change the solvent from liquid to vapor phase. Cannabinoid distillation from oil often takes multiple passes at a much deeper vacuum and higher temperature to achieve the clear odorless distillate that the market craves. 

As a result, these two functions often make up as much as ¾ of the total energy used in a processing facility. That results in millions of kilowatt hours and hefty utility bills.

When it comes to the environment, according to the EPA, one million kilowatt hours of electricity on average will put 417 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, equivalent to 82 households or 99 cars.

Worse, that electricity will cost the processor $80,000-$120,000 based on average industrial and commercial rates, while some operators could pay up to double that in high priced markets. Using so much electricity is bad for the environment, and bad for business.

Good News and a Path Forward

New technology and processing methods are disrupting the sector and slashing utility costs across the board. Membrane technology like HMS and X-Spiral from SciPhy Systems can dramatically reduce the need for low temperature extraction and dewax operations, and most significantly can perform 90%+ of the solvent recovery function without the need for distillation. 

These aren’t minor impacts, for many operations these savings can amount to over 85% electricity use reduction. Not only is this a big win for sustainability, but it also means that the equipment pays for itself in energy cost savings.

Finally, power utility districts across the country have begun working with processors to issue energy efficiency incentives in the form of cash grants or rebates to help cover the cost of new equipment, ranging from 20% to as high as 85% of total equipment costs. Every incentive dollar translates to an extra dollar of profitability for companies when their energy bills come due, and that is a competitive advantage that cannot be ignored in today’s competitive market.

Hopefully a new day for processing sustainability is finally here.

Photo by Jeff W on Unsplash


Related posts

Leave a Reply





* indicates required


We hate spam too. You'll get great content and exclusive offers. Nothing more.


Cannabis & Tech Today - SOCIAL MEDIA