EcoGreen Industries founder and Chief Executive Officer Sean MaHannah offers an insider’s look into the science and art of CLS extraction and the company’s role in providing high-quality, affordable solvents.
When was EcoGreen founded? Who started the company, and what was the inspiration for getting into the cannabis business?
I founded EcoGreen Industries (EGI) in 2013. The company was born out of necessity, as it was becoming exceedingly difficult for me at the time to purchase the high quality extraction solvents I needed for my Closed Loop System (CLS) from traditional specialty gas suppliers. I had been using an account to buy butane from my local Airgas branch until 2012, when one day I was told they would no longer sell to me unless I would submit to a site inspection at my place of business in order to verify the butane being purchased was not being used to extract cannabis. Apparently, the corporate heads at that company had finally learned their instrument-grade butane was being used for purposes other than calibrating precision instruments, and they didn’t like that for either moral or liability reasons.
I didn’t want to can-tap low-quality lighter butane, so I searched for another specialty gas supplier and found one in Nevada that would sell to me. The problem with that supplier was I had to rent their tanks and ship them back via freight to be refilled at my expense. The gas itself and the whole process were very costly and cumbersome. I knew I could not be alone in my frustration with the lack of viable purchasing options for extraction solvent; other extraction artists had to be dealing with the same issues. Something had to be done about the lack of high-quality, easily accessible, and affordable extraction solvents, and if no one else was going to do it, then I would. That’s when I started EGI.
What is the role of refrigerants in the butane hash oil extraction process, and what makes the EGI solution unique?
The word “refrigerant” is probably a misnomer when used in the context of the extraction process, but I’m glad you brought it up since it’s a source of much confusion in our industry. Sure, EGI’s solvents are marketed as refrigerants, and we have many good reasons to do that due to our current regulatory climate. A key thing to remember is that the word “refrigerant” or “refrigerant-grade” when used to describe light hydrocarbons such as n-butane, isobutene, and propane are simply labels we create to market our products. For example, the chemical formula for n-butane is C4H10. It doesn’t matter whether we assign a label to this n-butane such as R600 refrigerant or research-grade solvent or whatever. The only meaningful piece of information to look for when trying to ascertain the quality of a solvent is the purity percentage number of the solvent. There is no such thing as a 100-percent pure solvent, so what we extraction artists usually look for are solvents that are at least 99-percent pure or better. EGI’s solvents are all currently 99.9-percent pure, which is equivalent to what some specialty gas suppliers call “research grade.” “Instrument grade” is typically 99.5-percent pure, and I’ve even seen some other manufacturers label their gas as “medical grade,” which is completely fabricated bullshit.
EGI is unique because we were the first company on the extraction scene to offer high-purity extraction solvents available in five-gallon disposable cylinders, which can be purchased from various retailers or online at EcoGreenIndustries.net and legally shipped to anyone’s doorstep for a reasonable price. Prior to EGI, the only options available to recharge your CLS with solvent was to can-tap lighter butane or overpay at a specialty gas supplier.
What are the elements that go into making a superior recovery pump, and what sort of technical support do you provide for your pumps?
For many extraction artists, the recovery pump is still the weak link in their CLS. The majority of recovery pumps installed in extraction systems today were originally designed to evacuate leftover chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) or hydrochlorofluorocarbon (HFC) refrigerant gas from dead or potentially serviceable refrigeration units. These refrigerant-recovery machines were not designed to recover hydrocarbon gas, nor were they intended to be used to produce a product that would ultimately be used for human consumption, and they weren’t designed for continuous duty use, either. Those are all big problems.
One of the main advantages to running a CLS instead of open blasting is safety, but if the recovery pump begins to leak gas internally because the rubber seals have deteriorated due to hydrocarbon gas exposure, then the CLS can no longer be considered safe. It is now a fire and explosion hazard. Moreover, since these pumps were designed for industrial purposes and not for human consumable production, many of them use toxic oils and metals such as chromium in their components that can be harmful to humans should they leach into the extract. These types of recovery pumps are cheap, and that’s why people buy them, but cheaper is not always cheaper in the long run. It is not uncommon for an extraction lab to run nonstop for ten to twelve hours a day. A recovery pump designed for intermittent duty (it usually takes less than one hour to evacuate the gas from an HVAC unit) will have a relatively short life and diminished performance if it is forced to run twelve hours per day.
EGI had already been working with the CM Green company in China, importing their CM-EP explosion-proof recovery pumps as early as 2013. While the CM-EP was an explosion-proof recovery pump designed to recover hydrocarbon refrigerants, it did have some drawbacks since it was designed for the refrigeration industry and not the extraction industry. The primary flaw was the CM-EP is not an oil-less recovery pump, so the possibility of some crankcase oil polluting the extract did exist. Our workaround for this issue was to lubricate the compressor with non-toxic hempseed oil. This was not an ideal solution, so I approached the engineers at CM Green about building the first-ever recovery pump designed specifically from the ground up for the extraction industry. I gave them the design parameters for what became the CMEP-OL oil-less recovery pump. All internal metal components in the CMEP-OL are made from food-safe stainless steel, same as a closed-loop extraction system. The seals are made from polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE, or Teflon), and they are completely resistant to hydrocarbon gas.
The CMEP-OL is also about two to three times faster than most other recovery pumps, and it can handle continuous-duty, 24/7 workloads. All aspects of the CMEP-OL’s design are compliant with international explosion-proof safety standards, making it the safest electrically powered recovery pump on the market today.
What other products or services do you provide?
Our primary focus is on solvents and recovery pumps, but we do carry other ancillary extraction equipment such as stainless steel fittings, PTFE stainless steel braided hoses, molecular sieves, and chiller coils. We work with a lot of other extraction companies, so we are careful not to step on their feet. We have no intention of building or selling extractors, as that would make us a competitor rather than a partner.
How many extraction companies do you work with, and in how many states? Do you work with companies of any size?
EGI currently has established distribution relationships with around eight major extraction companies. We also have wholesale relationships with hydroponic stores and smoke shops all around the country. Yes, we will work with companies of any size so long as they are able to meet our minimum order quantities for wholesale orders.
Our goal is to build up our wholesale network over the next couple of years to provide better national coverage to retail customers. We recognize that many of our customers live in rural areas that don’t have any nearby retail stores to purchase solvents from, which is why we still allow retail sales through our online website. We regularly ship our products to all of the lower forty-eight states, as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and Canada.
How would you describe the state of the extraction sector? Do you think extraction companies in general are ready to meet the demands of a regulated industry?
The extraction sector is continuing to grow by leaps and bounds every year, and there is no indication it is going to slow down anytime soon. Retail sales of concentrates in Colorado’s medical and recreational markets were up 125 percent in the first quarter of this year from the same period in 2015. By contrast, sales of cannabis flowers were only up by 11 percent. I think these figures speak for themselves.
The extraction industry is being forced to grow up quickly due to the high demand for concentrates. I believe this trend will continue as dabbing gains acceptance as the new normal way to consume cannabis among the under-30 crowd. If you’re still smoking, then chances are you are from the older generation. Concentrates are the future.
I do think extraction companies are ready to meet the demands of a regulated industry, provided that those regulations aren’t overly draconian. My fear is that well-intentioned regulators will stifle the industry and drive extraction artists underground and back to the black market. This would be a real shame, because the industry does need to be regulated to help prevent extraction artists from blowing themselves up and concentrate consumers from being poisoned by dirty concentrates. The industry needs to adopt common-sense safety standards and best practices for extraction equipment and processes. We at EGI welcome more common-sense regulation, because if done properly, it will keep people safe and will help to legitimize our industry.
What advances in extraction will we see in the next few years, and what role will EGI have in the evolution of the industry?
The extraction industry is evolving so rapidly that it’s anybody’s guess where the technology will be in a few years from now. Even in the past year things have changed dramatically with the rise in popularity of rosin presses and short-path distillation techniques for making clear concentrates. I doubt we will see the advent of any new classes of extraction technologies within the next few years. It is more likely that we will continue to see existing technologies further refined and improved.
I personally think we will see more extraction processes being automated to help with both safety and quality control. Without me divulging too much information, I will say this is an area EGI is actively working on now. We have also been investing our capital into upgrading the equipment at our overseas solvent factory.
We are not content with having 99.9-percent pure solvents, and we won’t stop until we have the purest solvents available on the market for the cheapest price. We have recently tested samples made from our new equipment that came back 99.97-percent pure with absolutely zero condensable compounds identified in the gas. That means there are no semi-volatile residues or “mystery” oils in solvent produced by this new equipment. This new solvent grade will be available for purchase this August. That’s kind of a big deal, since we won’t be raising any of our existing prices for this superior product. Our goal for next year is to get to the 99.9999-percent purity level.