The Dos and Don’ts of Solventless Processing
At face value, solventless processing is a simple concept. You and your team are using heat and pressure in a lab setting to develop a spectrum of concentrated end products for the cannabis consumer.
And while there are many ways to go about that task, there are several commonalities among all successful solventless producers—and several things you’ll want to make sure you avoid along the way.
Efficiency is key, says Mallory Tjaden, Marketing Coordinator for PurePressure, and she’s seen how brands of all sizes can save time and money while turning out top-tier products for dispensaries. It’s a delicate and studied process, but the solventless technique provides the full expression of the cannabis plant to consumers, and you’ll want to bear that in mind as you and your team are going about the day-to-day work.
DO: Develop a five-year plan with phased rollouts
Earning a processing license can be a major challenge in most cannabis markets, so it’s natural that an upstart business team will want to focus all energy on that task. But the brand’s long-term needs are important, right from the jump. With solventless products currently ranking as the fastest-growing concentrates segment in the U.S., your team will want to keep a close eye on short-, mid- and long-term time horizons–and plan accordingly.
“You want to know where you want to be eventually,” Tjaden says. “You want to start a lab based on where you think you’ll be–not where you currently are.”
This is helpful when seeking investors, too. The market may change, but you’ll have an adaptable roadmap either way. And this is not simply a one-step process from year one to year five; rather, a phase rollout of specific SKUs and brand marketing strategies. What sort of products will you lead with? What products would you like to begin producing and selling in your third year? These are important questions for your timeline.
Plus: You’ll save money in the long run by growing into the equipment you buy up front, rather than by incrementally rewriting your business plan each year.
DO: Plan to have a cold room
Having a cold room can expand your SKU offerings by providing a cool space to work and store product. You’ll want this room to clock in at around 55°F or lower; your team won’t necessarily need a walk-in freezer to take your product to the next level.
“A cold room can make all of your processes smoother,” Tjaden says. In fact, she adds, it’s imperative in many cases. “If you’re working with ice water hash and that’s your final product, you really have no choice but to work in a cold room if you want that sandy texture all the way through. You have to keep it cold the entire time. There’s really no way around it.”
Make sure that you’re planning out the appropriate space for this cold room early in your planning.
“If you’re going to go through all the trouble of making ice water hash and a live rosin, people really expect a high-quality product and washing in a room-temperature room is one of those ways that you don’t get your product across the finish line,” says Eric Vlosky, Director of Marketing and Business Development for PurePressure.
Packaging your products in a cold room is even better, and it’s necessary if you are packaging ice water hash in particular. For other SKUs, packaging in a cold room is a helpful example of emerging best practices.
Similar to the five-year plan idea, you’ll want to plan this out in advance. Adding a cold room to your lab once you’ve already started down the road of processing is simply going to cost more.
DO: Use RO water and plan for appropriate storage space
RO (reverse-osmosis) water and ice are key.
Regular tap water may include invisible elements that can bind to trichomes during the washing process. And even after the water has evaporated, those tiny elements can remain with the product. This is not good. To develop a pure ice water hash product that captures the essence of the plant’s chemistry, clean RO water is needed. The basic ratio involves: ⅓ cannabis, ⅓ ice and ⅓ water (although preferences vary up to ½ ice for some hash makers).
Having a dependable storage tank on-site is helpful, too, so that you and your team are not waiting through the RO filtration process when you could be working on the actual cannabis processing.
“Making sure that it’s chilled ahead of time really comes down to efficiency,” Vlosky says. “These labs have really demanding production schedules. If you are not ahead of that, if you fall behind … you’re wasting precious time.”
It’s a common theme in business, of course, and it’s no different in solventless: Time is money. Efficiency from soup to nuts is critical.
DON’T: Assume solvent-based and solventless processing are one and the same
As the cannabis market becomes increasingly normalized in the U.S. and elsewhere, “concentrates” have a tendency to get lumped into one great heap–regardless of the processing technique that created them. Even within the solvent-based category, it’s not super common for retailers or marketers to distinguish between butane, supercritical CO2 or ethanol techniques, never mind the wholesale distinction of a solventless brand.
But solvent-based processing techniques and solventless processing techniques are not the same, and it’s a mistake to conflate them in the marketplace.
It’s simpler to set up a solventless lab, for one, if only because you and your team won’t need to set up a C1D1-regulated space. Other architectural considerations for solvent-based labs include venting and storage, to say nothing of what the local fire department might want to add.
If you’re getting into solventless, don’t confuse the build-out strategy with what you know about solvent-based labs.
DON’T: Underestimate storage space
Already, we’ve mentioned the importance of appropriately sized freezer for storing fresh-frozen material. For labs that are part of a vertically integrated business, this is key. Harvest your plants, and then store the biomass right away. You can also store the ice water hash that your team isn’t using yet.
Further along the process, keep in mind the need for small storage spaces elsewhere in the lab, like in your curing area. Make sure your team has a space to store pressed rosin before it makes its way into the next step.
And don’t forget about packaging solutions. Pressing and packaging in a separate room that contains boxes and containers and anything needed to get across the finish line. A lot of solventless labs tend to be small, so square footage is already at a premium in the floor plan. It’s easy to overlook requisite storage space, leaving only enough room for a pallet of glass jars, but that’s a problem.
Plan for supply chain issues, too: Your business may need to buy in bulk at times. Where are you going to put everything?
All of that storage space also lends itself to a smoother operation in general. Employees will have an easier time navigating the lab when there is ample space to store everything that’s needed (and then some). This will go a long way in saving time and staving off headaches. Remember: Time is money.
DON’T: Disregard ceiling height
Maximizing efficiencies in a finite physical space is important; however, many lab startup teams might overlook the importance of ceiling height. This is a two-sided coin, and it’s important to understand what your lab will need from its vertical metrics.
Think about your cold room. If the ceiling is too high, then you’re going to be paying to chill those extra few feet above your team’s heads. You’re throwing money out the window at that point, paying to chill space that you simply aren’t using. “This is a game of inches for a lot of these brands,” Vlosky says. “You’re saving money with your utilities and you’re being environmentally friendly by using less energy.”
It’s all of a piece: Ceiling height will play into decisions made elsewhere in the equipment-purchasing process for your business.
“Having a very low ceiling in my cold room, and the opportunity to add in a pneumatic hash pump that eliminated the need for platforms and gravity draining, while not compromising a single trichome’s quality, was integral in my ability to expand and meet our growing demands,” says Jillian Krall, director of hash production at Papa’s Select.
However, in your main lab space, some ceiling height can be good for your workflow. Extra space up top can be helpful if you and your team are hand-washing and gravity-draining, where you’ll want your vessel to be placed on a platform that drains downward.