The choice of extraction method has always been a crucial decision for cannabis companies. Choosing the right equipment to reach your desired extract product is equally as important, and failures in procurement can have cascading problems for your business.
For most producers the choice of equipment has mostly been about a choice of solvents – with hydrocarbons, alcohol, or CO2 being the standards today.
Some producers have opted to go for solvent-free methods such as dry sifting, rosin pressing or bubble hash. Typically, solventless processes have been unsanitary, manual, laborious and difficult to scale. This has left solventless mainly for smaller producers, or niche product lines.
For thousands of years hashish was the only cannabis concentrate on the planet. Traditional methods of hash production, such as dry sifting and pressing or hand rubbing on landrace cultivars produce hashish with potencies in the range of 5-30% cannabinoids.
This product is usually only 20-50% resin glands, with the rest being plant matter contaminant. Made from dry cannabis (which is often old and not stored well), the terpene content is quite low. It combusts when heated and has little usefulness to convert into value added products.
In the last twenty years – less than 1% of the history of hashish – a new and improved method has become popular.
The ice water extraction method, or bubble hash technique, agitates cannabis in ice water to remove trichomes.
The trichomes can be separated from the plant material and the water through a series of smaller screens. Using the ice water extraction method, bubble hash has a common potency of 50-70% cannabinoids with 95+% resin gland content.
Bubble hash is viable as a raw extract, with prices that range from $10 to over $100 per gram. It can also be converted into a variety of final products.
The bubble hash method has a multitude of advantages over solvent-based methods. These advantages will precipitate a paradigm shift in the industry, as it becomes established as the primary first pass extraction method worldwide.
There are many advantages to the ice water extraction method, including:
- The cannabis input can be fresh frozen or dry
- The operational cost is drastically decreased
- The environmental impact is reduced
- The extract can be segregated into different value fractions
- The final product has a superior flavour, aroma and effect for the end user.
Despite all of these advantages, the lack of commercially viable equipment prevented large scale producers from embracing hash. Our technology changes the scale drastically and introduces a level of sanitary design never seen before in the cannabis industry. We provide turnkey equipment to take your freshly cut plant directly to an end product in under 24 hours.
We aim to make you the most profitable producer, by maximizing your final product value and minimizing your costs. The time for the sift away from solvent is upon us, don’t wait to upgrade your extraction line as you may get left behind.
The first and foremost advantage of the ice water extraction method, especially for large scale field production, is the ability to use fresh or fresh frozen cannabis. Drying and curing cannabis is a critical risk point in its production.
Drying cannabis for high quality flower requires specific environmental conditions and a specialized skillset for curing it correctly. This poses great challenges at scale, especially when considering the cultivation of cannabis at agricultural scale (10-100+ acres per plot).
Not only does drying pose a significant risk, it also results in the loss of a significant fraction of the terpene content of the plant at harvest.
Cannabis terpenes are highly valued compounds, and millions of dollars worth may evaporate form a large outdoor harvest during drying.
By freezing the plants at harvest and extracting using the ice water method, the terpenes stay frozen in the resin gland. Removing the moisture through freeze drying preserves the terpene content in the final resin product.
These terpenes allow the resulting resin to be pressed into a rosin which is liquid at room temperature. This final product can be put into vape pens, to produce live rosin carts.
Live rosin, pens and bubble hash are currently dominating the US market. Following a general consumer trend towards organic and natural products, and compounded by the vaping crises in 2019, consumers have flocked towards solvent-free vape products.
Rosin pens are made using no solvents and have a superior flavour to solvent extracts. Most often, solvent-based products also contain cutting agents and flavours to replace the terpenes which were lost to a poor choice of extraction methodology.
For consumers, the price is still a big issue with solvent-free products.
With the advent of Whistler Technologies’ scalable ice water extraction equipment, rosin pens will be able to compete with solvent products on price, which will spell the end for the blasting.
Apart from a superior end product due to the terpene retention, the ice water extraction method is a fraction of the operational cost of solvent-based methods.
Whistler Technologies’ equipment uses 10-25% of the electricity as solvent-based methods. It also eliminates the need for any costly consumable solvents.
The equipment practically runs itself, and no staff with expensive technical skills are required.
Overall this process will reduce the costs for the producer drastically, with these savings translating into significantly cheaper extracts for consumers.
All of these cost savings also reduce the environmental impact of the processing. This is an incredible synergy of benefits where by producers can use the least expensive process, which simultaneously has the least environmental impact and best quality end products.
Another financial benefit for the producer is the ability to fractionate their extract into many different qualities, based on time to extract and the size of the trichomes.
Unlike solvent-based systems which expel one fraction of the extract at the end of the run, our closed loop hash extraction system removes trichomes in real time. Trichomes that are removed early in the run are often the largest and ripest, which result in hash of the highest quality.
The first half of the bubble hash batch may have a price 50-100% higher than what is removed later in the run.
Furthermore, trichomes can be separated by size as well as time, giving the producer an additional opportunity to separate the highest value fraction apart from the rest. All of these possibilities are lost in solvent-based extraction.
There is a downside to the bubble hash story, and it that is yield.
Some of the cannabinoids that are not contained within the trichomes cannot be extracted using the ice water extraction method.
This makes the extraction efficiency (in terms of cannabinoids only) in the 60-80% range for most cultivars. The cannabinoids left over in the leaf matter can then be extracted using solvents, if that is economically viable.
This first and secondary processing is common to other high-value agricultural products, like olive oil. Oil that comes from the first cold pressing is the most valuable, and is then separated from second pressings and solvent extracts of the olive pulp, as it can fetch a higher price.
Ice water extraction gives a similar opportunity to take off the high value fractions with a solvent free method. The remaining biomass can be solvent extracted to make lower value commodity products. While many see the efficiency loss as a sticking point when comparing to solvent extraction, there is a silver lining that becomes very important: Flavour and effect.
While there are some cannabinoids left on the biomass following extraction, they have a different terpene profile compared to the trichome.
Separating the trichome from the remaining biomass separates two distinct flavour and effect profiles from the plant, which are intertwined when using whole flower.
The trichome is like the ripe fruit of the plant – it is the flavour and effect it wants to pass onto the world.
If everything is about yield consider this analogy: if one were to pick the apples and the leaves from an apple tree at harvest to make juice, they would get a higher yield of apple juice if it were all processed together. Even though they may have gotten more sugar, the flavour has been altered and the value is lower – despite getting a higher yield.
The same is true for cannabis – the chase for yield leads producers away from what really matters: profit.
At Whistler Technologies, we aim to make you the most profitable producer, by maximizing your final product value and minimizing your costs.
The time for the sift away from solvent is upon us, don’t wait to upgrade your extraction line as you may get left behind.