CARE Cooperative, Inc.
By Gooey Rabinski
California’s burgeoning legal cannabis market is increasingly populated by startups focused on cultivation, processing, distribution, and retail sales. Increasing numbers of West Coast companies are employing systems based on closed-loop supercritical CO2 (carbon dioxide) extraction in the production of oil and terpenes for medical and recreational markets.
Brad Gleason, owner of CARE Cooperative, Inc., in Arcata, California, is at the helm of one such company. His startup is focused on manufacturing wholesale cannabis oil in the rapidly emerging market for legal cannabis in Northern California. Gleason has chosen to leverage supercritical CO2 extraction as his production methodology.
Eschewing the retail side of the business has allowed this 31-year-old entrepreneur to focus on workflow efficiencies and quality assurance while navigating the precarious waters of permitting and licensing. His leading edge cannabis oil production system is so powerful and practical that it can be monitored and adjusted via his smartphone from anywhere in the world.
Gleason, who earned an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, has spent about $250,000 building a core processing infrastructure. He said that two-thirds of this cost was for his pharmaceutical-grade extraction equipment.
Why Supercritical CO2 Tech?
There are several benefits of CO2-based processing over competing approaches. Chief among these is the relative ease, from an engineering perspective, with which CO2 can be taken to supercritical levels in order to function as an agricultural solvent. Another significant advantage is the ready availability of inexpensive carbon dioxide in the form of tanks and cylinders.
CO2, in supercritical form, displays characteristics of both a liquid and a gas simultaneously. It features the density of a liquid, but the viscosity and diffusivity of a gas. This delicate state is achieved through the combination of pressure and heat.
By making modifications to the pressure employed in his machine, Gleason can extract different chemicals from cannabis trim based on their molecular weight. Because any mix of 111 cannabinoids and 200 terpenes is possible in an individual specimen of a cannabis plant, the capabilities of such fine-tuning of the extraction process are significant.
An example of market applications of this technology includes specialized products for particular market niches or patient profiles. Possibilities are products that induce sleep, reduce appetite or deal with particular ailments.
Yet another benefit of CO2 oil production is relative safety. Properly configured production equipment that complies with municipal building codes necessarily features failsafe mechanisms.
One example on Gleason’s machine is a series of rupture discs and a dedicated high-pressure exhaust pipe that runs from his production floor to the roof and outside the facility. If pressures within the machine reach dangerous levels (in excess of 10,000 psi), one or more of the rupture discs will vent the gas outside the facility, preserving both the equipment and human life.
Understanding Supercritical CO2 Extraction
The best supercritical CO2 extraction machines employ a closed loop system, meaning that such mechanisms recycle their solvent, releasing none into the environment. Gleason’s Waters unit is no exception. He reported that he is able to cycle clean CO2 through the system four to six times before it becomes too contaminated by plant matter to serve its purpose.
During an exclusive interview with CannaBiz Journal from Gleason’s Humboldt county-based production facility, he described the benefits of supercritical CO2 extraction in his business model.
CannaBiz Journal: Why did you choose supercritical CO2 as your process to produce cannabis oil?
Brad Gleason: Let’s talk about the fundamentals of CO2 as a solvent for the extraction of cannabis resin. CO2 is just a gas. It’s in the atmosphere; we’re exhaling it right now. It must be present for humans to survive. CO2, when you pressurize it to a certain level, becomes a liquid. And then, when it is pressurized even further, it becomes a supercritical fluid.
“As a supercritical fluid, CO2 can flow into all these little crevices to pull out the cannabinoids and terpenoids from cannabis flowers or trim. This is how supercritical CO2 extraction works with any agricultural product. You can use supercritical CO2 to make vanilla extract or mint flavoring or sandalwood for perfumes. Supercritical CO2 [extraction] is also a common process for decaffeinating coffee.
CJ: CO2 extraction is often touted as resulting in not only cleaner, healthier cannabis oil, but also for being a safe production process. Could an unqualified operator blow up your machine?
BG: The cool thing about this machine is that, even if someone came in and really screwed something up, it’s just going to be a matter of time to fix it. It’s not as if they’ll fundamentally damage the machine or anyone will get hurt.
The great thing about this particular model is that it features a number of rupture discs. They break if the pressure becomes dangerously excessive. If this happens, the gas simply travels through the reinforced flexlines and is vented outside the building. The emergency vent is part of California’s building code.
“Any time you’re dealing with compressed gas storage and you have fail points, they must be vented outside the facility.
CJ: Let’s talk about your choice of equipment vendor.
BG: There’s a difference between this machine and some others that aren’t built by a large, reputable company that has been doing this for years. We went with Waters so we have the support, the warranty and the spare parts.
This machine was designed and improved iteratively. They figured out where the rupture discs are most needed. They put it together the right way. My priority was finding a company with a comprehensive warranty.
I don’t have to go out and source the sapphire piston head for this extraction machine. That’s not something you just find on eBay or Amazon; it’s a highly specific item. That’s why I wanted a vendor that would give me a feeling of confidence that this equipment isn’t going to blow up.