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Getting a Successful Start in Hemp Extraction

Apr 16, 2020

Getting a Successful Start in Hemp Extraction

2019 was a big year for hemp. According to one report released by the advocacy group Vote Hemp, the amount of US land licensed to grow hemp more than quadrupled from 2018 into 2019. By the third quarter of last year, it was estimated that over half a million acres of American farmland were used by licensed cultivators to grow hemp plants.

Emboldened from the 2018 Farm Bill, 2019 also saw 13 states bring in new hemp legalization laws.

With the hemp industry taking strong roots in the US, there has been an uptick in interest over what it takes to start a successful hemp business. Here, Analytical Cannabis takes a look at the most important considerations involved in getting a successful start in hemp extraction.


Fail to prepare, prepare to fail

When building a commercial facility, many would find a property or plot of land that could serve the needs of the business, build the facility on that land, and then fully furnish it with everything it needs to be operational.

But building a hemp extraction facility isn’t the same as building any ordinary commercial property.

“For a hemp extraction facility, due to the complexity and potential [building] code ramifications of a hemp extraction facility, particularly one using hazardous materials, it is better to start with the hemp process first,” explained Stacey Stemach, the owner and principal of Stemach Design and Architecture, at Analytical CannabisScience of Cannabis Online Symposium 2019.

“That way you get an idea of what those code ramifications are going to be, how that might affect the design and construction of the building, and if there are particulars specific to the property that should be defined.”

For example, a large-scale high throughput hemp extraction facility that uses an ethanol extraction method will likely be considered a hazardous occupancy (also called an H occupancy) under local building/fire codes, due to the large amounts of flammable ethanol solvent that will be needed for this process. A hemp extraction facility that is an H occupancy should expect to be required to install fire sprinklers, special fire walls or fire barriers, be housed in a building made from non-combustible materials, and maybe even be built a certain distance away from the property line to reduce the risk to neighboring developments.

By planning the hemp extraction process first, engineers and architects can take these requirements into account during the building of the facility. Otherwise, a business would be required to make alterations to an existing property they have purchased for the site, which may be extremely costly.


Take a holistic look at your extraction system

With the extraction process mapped out, and a facility design from qualified architects and engineers, the next step is ensuring that the extraction equipment selected for the facility is up to code.

Most jurisdictions require that an extract system be UL Listed or certified by some other third-party nationally recognized testing laboratory. Alternatively, the apparatus can be accompanied by a peer review report stamped by an engineer of record and the installation verified by a qualified engineer.

Commonly, hemp extractors will find that the parts and pieces of their system are UL listed, but the whole assembly of the hemp extraction system isn’t. Because it can be so costly to remedy this, extractors are advised to always check with their equipment manufacturer that the whole system is UL Listed, or that the manufacturer will be providing a peer review report for the system.

As well as making sure that the entire system is UL Listed, hemp extractors should also take a holistic approach to evaluating whether their system is open or closed. The extraction apparatus may be completely isolated from the external atmosphere, but if too much solvent is present in the spent hemp biomass, or if the solvent is being transported in open-air containers, the whole system might be considered open.

Open systems, by virtue of exposing flammable solvents or fibers to the air, are considerably more dangerous, and will trigger an H occupancy sooner than a closed system with a comparable throughput. Again, this is important for designers and architects to know up-front, so that appropriate safety modifications can be made to a facility.


Safety first

There are a number of other important safety considerations that aspiring hemp extractors will have to take into account early on in the design process.

Depending on the extraction process being used, different areas of the extraction facility might be considered classified spaces. These classified spaces deal with the handling of flammable liquids, dust, and fiber that might become a fire or explosion hazard. Generally, a division 1 classified space indicates a greater risk, and will require more stringent ventilation and electrical system requirements that need to be addressed during the facility’s design stage.

Closed extraction systems can reduce the risk of these substances forming in ignitable concentrations in the air, but if these systems are frequently exposed during maintenance or similar conditions, they might also necessitate the space being rated as a division 1 classified space. Hence, once again, it’s important to take a holistic view of the whole extraction process upfront.

There are a handful of other safety considerations that may not appear obvious to hemp extractors. Firstly, in many jurisdictions, the hemp extract is considered a food product and so the extraction facility must also comply with applicable food safety regulations. In practice, this can mean the installation of hand sinks, water and air filtration systems, and proper ventilation. Local health and agriculture departments should be able to advise facilities about their food safety requirements.

Occupational health and safety requirements will also apply to the employers of a hemp extraction facility, and can necessitate that emergency facilities, illness and injury prevention procedures, hazard communication procedures, and other workplace safety measures are implemented in the facility.

Of late, there has been a lot of attention paid to Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) in the cannabis industry; achieving a GMP certification can be considered a stamp of quality in the cannabis space. By seriously considering the extraction system and possible safety considerations in this holistic way, extraction facilities can ensure that they are properly in-keeping with the guidelines set forward by GMP and maximize their chances of compliance. 


This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Advances in Cannabis Extraction and Processing ebook in March 2020. 


Alexander Beadle

Science Writer

@alexbeadlesci

Alexander Beadle has been working as a freelance science writer since 2017 and has covered the cannabis industry for Analytical Cannabis since 2018. He has also written for our sister publication, Technology Networks, and the cannabis industry consultant firm Prohibition Partners, among others. Alexander holds an MChem in materials chemistry from the University of St Andrews, where he won a Chemistry Purdie Scholarship and conducted research into zeolite crystal growth mechanisms and the action of single-molecule transistors.

 

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