How to Start a Cannabis Extraction Podcast: A Q&A With The Modern Extractor
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It seemed unimaginable. A topic that didn’t yet have its own dedicated podcast? A subject of discussion that hadn’t yet been discussed online? Surely not. But that’s exactly what Jason Showard stumbled upon last year. And that topic was cannabis extraction.
Of course, Showard’s podcast, the Modern Extractor, isn’t really the sole source for online audible discourse on marijuana extraction, but it is perhaps the most in-depth. In episodes up to an hour long, he and his expert guests dissect each stage of the extraction process to pick apart its strengths, weaknesses, and place in the industry.
Having wrapped in mid-February, the first season has already been a big hit among professional extractors, says Showard. So, with season two on the horizon, Analytical Cannabis caught up the Modern Extractor himself to see where the series is going next.
Leo Bear-McGuinness (LBM): So, how did the Modern Extractor come about?
Jason Showard (JS): I got into the industry about four years ago. A friend of mine wanted to start an ethanol extraction laboratory and asked for my help getting things going. After putting everything together, it seemed like I knew a little bit more about how to make everything work than the chemist involved.
We spent the next few years testing and improving our processes. I got more and more obsessed over improving our metrics and quality and we were seeing some really great results. Then the pandemic hit, and I took a very strange little detour to start a hand sanitizer factory – since we're already working with ethanol. After that was all up and running, I left sanitizer and got a little bit bored. I had been kicking the idea of a podcast around for a while. I had been searching for an extraction focused podcast to listen to and hadn’t really found any. I just decided, 'Well, my original education was as an audio engineer, so I should be able to figure this out.’ I started talking to a couple of different people about the idea. Everybody was super enthusiastic about it and seemed to think that the industry needed something like it, so that just gave me that last little push to go for it.
I decided to have season one focus on ethanol extraction. In the show we follow material through a lab; basically, each episode is devoted to one particular stage in the ethanol extraction, distillation and post processing workflow. We start with an overview, the move on through biomass selection, material prep, extraction, evaporation, decarboxylation, terp strip, distillation, all the way down to isolate if you're processing CBD, or distillate if you're processing THC. Each episode really digs in to break down the particular stage we’re on. I wire-framed out the stages for the season and then decided which equipment manufacturers and industry experts I'd like to have on as guests for each of the episodes. I started reaching out to potential guests and everyone was pretty enthusiastic. We booked a great lot of guests for season one and just finished production on it. Now the show is about to roll into season two, which will focus on hydrocarbon extraction.
LBM: Congratulations. That's interesting that your education was so relevant to podcasting and less relevant to cannabis extraction.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. You know, it's a whole bunch of twisting knobs, checking the results that you're getting, and then twisting them some more until you get what you want. While it's not specific to chemistry, it certainly applies in its own right. In the cannabis lab space, I think people who have a formal education tend to gravitate towards doing things the way that they've been done and think outside the box a little bit less often than someone who came in with a totally open mind and then became obsessive and trained themselves in the chemistry. At least from a production standpoint.
LBM: So, the first season of the podcast covered ethanol extraction. How did you break that topic down into episodes?
JS: Well, there's different equipment that you need for each stage of the process. And each stage of the process is very important in its own right. So, we started with biomass selection and extraction preparation. For that episode, I interviewed Bri Tolp from Futurola. They make what I consider to be the best equipment for particle sizing your cannabis biomass in a medium scale operation. We went from there into centrifugal extraction, which is the most common way to extract with ethanol. The industry leader in that space is Delta Separations, and I spoke with Adam Chambers from Delta. Then you've got to filter this extract that you've created. Lenticular filtration is the most effective way to filter ethanol extracts in any small or medium and even some large-scale operations. Scott Laboratories makes the best lenticular filtration equipment, so I spoke with Maria Peterson from Scott. I'm a big fan of both their equipment, their service and just general knowledge over there.
Moving on from there, you've got to separate the ethanol from the oil. The most common way to do this at any scale is with a falling film evaporator. TruSteel was the first to introduce falling films to the cannabis market, so I spoke with Ray Van Lenten, TruSteel’s founder and CTO. It was a great interview with some good SOPs [standard operating procedures] to get the most out of their equipment. After removing the ethanol, you need to decarboxylate your crude oil. I brought my good friend and partner, Greg Arias from Concentrated Science on to talk about what's actually happening in the decarboxylation stage to help everybody demystify decarb a little bit, because there's a lot of theorization that happens in that stage.
Moving on from there, you take your decarbed crude oil and distill it. For the first distillation episode I talked to John Hart, the founder of Chem Tech services, who make some fantastic wiped-film distillation units. Then the second interview for distillation was with Jay Horton of Genovations. Jay and I really got into the SOPs and got deep into the best procedures for getting the most out of your equipment. I felt like distillation was pretty important to cover with multiple episodes because it's so complex, especially when doing it from the standpoint of audio only without any kind of visual aids.
So, distillate is the end of the line for THC. We moved on to crystallization and isolation for CBD for the last episode of the season, where we really broke down the equipment and different approaches. I spoke to Luke Van Trieste of BR instruments to discuss CBD isolation and crystallization of CBD using their equipment and processes.
LBM: So that’s ethanol extraction well covered. I wonder, when exploring other extraction methods in future seasons, is there any potential for some conflict, for lack of a better word, between extractors who prefer other methods?
JS: There definitely is. Season two is actually going to be based on hydrocarbon extraction. I've already been wire-framing out what season two looks like and talking to some people that I consider to be experts in the field. I wasn't really sure if I was going to do a season two, but by the by the time season one ended, people loved the show. I'm so excited about it, and everyone else is excited about it, so I'm running with it. We're going to do another season.
To answer your question regarding whether there's a bit of a divide, I would say that there is, but all extraction methods have their strengths and weaknesses. Anyone who says that one method is superior to all others for all products isn’t looking at the bigger picture.
LBM: Yes, I understand that ethanol is often considered the more affordable medium. While super critical CO2, some say, is more expensive but more efficacious.
JS: Yes. You have the most control with CO2 and can do some amazing things with some of these CO2 machines, it's just the throughput on them isn't there. Whenever I’m talking to anybody about what equipment to choose, or about their extraction style, I say that the best way to go about it is to pick what you want to make and work backwards. So if you're trying to win a medal at the Cannabis Cup, you're not going to be using ethanol. But if your goal is to have as many brands as possible using your distillate for their edibles, or their vape pens, or whatever they may use it for, then you're going to be able to have so much more product produced and so much more throughput using ethanol, that it's hands down the right choice. So it really all depends on what you want to do.
If I were to try to make the absolute best possible product, I would choose either CO2 or hydrocarbon. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. A lot of people think that hydrocarbon is the best way to preserve your terpenes, but some of these guys that are using CO2 are managing to get a terpene profile in their extracts that looks almost identical to the terpene profile from the original plant material. Now, is that the way that most people are running CO2? No. But you have the ability to do that and really fine tune what you’re targeting a little bit more with CO2. Then with hydrocarbon you have the ability to make some really fantastic products as well. I do plan to cover both of these techniques moving forward. I don’t know if there's going to be an entire season focused on CO2, but there's will definitely be three or more episodes focused on CO2 after season two.
LBM: Fantastic. I like that mantra you mentioned at the start about imagining the product you want to create and working backwards from that.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, these are all tools and you’re going to use them differently depending on what you're trying to do with them. Is one better than another? No. But one is better than another for what you're trying to accomplish at the moment.
LBM: So, how does one choose the right equipment for them? Presumably, with their end product in mind?
JS: Well, like I said earlier, choosing what your end goal is and working backwards is important. And then once you know that, you're going to have to start the process of talking to equipment manufacturers. So, as armed as you can be with the information about what you want your operation to be before you start having these conversations, the more you’re going to be able to stick to your vision and the less you're going to be put into the box that fits whatever equipment the vendor is trying to sell to you.
LBM: Okay, I suppose it’s good to keep a level head when speaking to such people in the industry.
JS: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I'm not trying to make the equipment vendors or the manufacturers look like bad people. It's just that the more information that you can have when you go to talk to them, the easier it's going to be for them to help you get to your end goal.
LBM: Of course. So, with all that in mind, is it even worth hiring a consultant when starting an extraction facility?
JS: It all depends on the scale that you’re building. If you’re real small scale, you’re trying to get started as inexpensively as you can. I think a consultant will help on the small scale in saving you some of that money. You're likely going to be buying cheaper equipment and that doesn't typically come with a lot of help from the manufacturer. So, I think a consultant can help you on that micro-scale.
Now, when you move over into medium scale, I’d say, if you've got funding to buy from a reputable manufacturer, they'll often provide training with their equipment. So that would be where I might skip hiring a third-party consultant.
But that said, there’s the lab design aspect, which the manufacturer is not going to help you out with. Then after you get everything dialed in, and you're comfortable with your SOPs and your workflow – even after purchasing from one of these manufacturers that has an entire suite of equipment – it wouldn’t be a terrible idea to get somebody in there for a quick visit, just to make sure that there isn't something that you can optimize when it comes to your process.
When you get to a large-scale operation, 100 percent, always having a consultant involved is the way to go. You know, as the scale grows, the mistakes become increasingly more costly. The money that gets spent on a consultant will pay for itself really quickly. The equipment is bigger and oftentimes it has to be sourced from multiple manufacturers. I've seen a lot of stuff out there that could have been solved in a much better way, had a consultant been involved prior to the problem instead of calling them in after the problem occurred.
Jason Showard, host of the Modern Extractor, was speaking to Leo Bear-McGuinness. Questions and responses have been edited for clarity.
This article originally appeared in Analytical Cannabis' Advances in Cannabis Extraction and Processing eBook in March 2021.