PIC-SFC: Global Leader in Supercritical Fluid Chromatography and Extractions
by Michael Schroeder
PIC-SFC is a leader in preparative supercritical fluid chromatography (SFC). Their brand is the number one supplier of SFC equipment worldwide, and their brand considers itself an elite quality product. “Our products are simply the best,” said Al Lipper, Vice President of PIC-SFC. They are a division of PIC-Solution, headquartered in Auvignon, France, with offices in Pennsylvania.
Their primary market is the pharmaceuticals industry, and their top-of-the-line equipment is used to extract, isolate, and fractionate the components of plants and compounds. Mostly, their products are self-contained units, made to customer specification with adjustment made for flow rate of end product, type of starting material and preferred end result.
Al Lipper has been to several cannabis science conventions and has represented his company to the cannabis industry for several years. He said, “Chromatography is coming to the [cannabis] industry soon. They’ll want to purify extracts to virtually 100%. You can do that with SFC. You can isolate THC, CBD, there’s already a market there.” Currently, their cannabis-related sales are mostly self-contained units for Supercritical Fluid Extraction (SFE). “It’s a much less complex process."
Mr. Lipper thinks that as the industry matures, SFC will become much more prevalent, especially in Washington. “We have the ‘top of the line’ extractor available,” he said. “And our chromatography machine is the highest quality on the market.”
While the biggest system they build is 2 x 175L, which can run three times in a 24 hour period, the legal cannabis industry customers generally begin with a 2 x 5L system. This means there are two 5-liter vessels, each of which can hold about five lbs of cannabis product.
“We even have designed a device that packs consistently tightly to avoid inconsistencies in the product. This avoids channeling,” Mr. Lipper explained. Channeling is when the CO2 follows the path of least resistance, which can lead to significant amounts of the product not being exposed to the solvent used. Essentially, this maximizes the amount of product from which components are extracted, increasing overall yields.
Their product allows for multiple-stage, true fractionation. Al said, “We do it from low to high, and we do it with one method.” He asserts that PIC-SFC is the only company whose product properly fractionates concentrates. Their software allows for a programmed process of separating the isolated components—based on temperature, pressure, timing and collection, the product separates terpenes, oils and waxes during the extraction process. Each component collects in a discrete vessel as part of the automated production process.
A core component of the design is to maximize efficiency and active usage time. Al Lipper explained, “There are always two vessels so you can process one, and harvest the other.” In comparison to competitors, Al says this company’s SFE machine takes less time to extract, and there is usually no need for winterization or other post-processing.
Another feature of this company’s products is their scalability. They offer a variety of sizes; no matter how the system is increased for capacity, the process duration remains the same. They scale the pumps, tubing, and other flow-control systems so that each run takes about eight hours.
This industry leader, like many others, began paying attention to the cannabis market several years ago, and Al Lipper brought the idea. He knew from previous experience how applicable these pharmaceutical-grade machines are to the cannabis industry, and they market a small desktop SFE designed for analytics. It has 10 vessels and 11 collection sites, for a constant process method. This can process a small amount of product into extracts, and is usually used to hone a set of parameters which can then be scaled up to full production runs in traditional machines.
PIC-SFC has robust systems that are designed to be durable. The product costs are relatively high and include systems installation as well as a year’s warranty. Mr. Lipper said, “If we can’t resolve a technical issue over the phone, I’ll fly out if I have to.”
Training after installation lasts for several days. “I stay with customers to answer their questions, make sure I’m around for many runs, and help dial things in. I watch them play with the machine, basically,” he quipped.