What is Distillation?
The textbook definition of Distillation:
“the action of purifying a liquid by a process of heating and cooling”
In our world – distillation occurs when we separate the desired compounds (Cannabinoids and Terpenes) from oil/resin using heat, under vacuum. There are numerous companies offering equipment and training to achieve this – we’re here to help sort through all the noise.
Types of Distillation Equipment for Cannabis
At a Glance
- Short Path
- Spinning Band
- Wiped Film / Rolling Film
Short-Path distillation systems or “SPD’s” have become a buzzword in the cannabis industry. They feature a heating mantle with a boiling flask which is manipulated under vacuum to “fraction” off compounds. As heat/vacuum increase incrementally, a variety of compounds distills away from the crude in the boiling flask and condense in another part of the system. Once a desired temperature and vacuum pressures are achieved, the operator can isolate the cannabinoid fractions in separate receiving vessels, away from the rest of the derivatives. The cannabinoid fractions can be re-distilled in a fresh boiling flask to refine and purify further.
Because of the low cost of entry, many aspiring extract artists and start-up labs alike choose this option over the other more expensive varieties of distillation equipment. Don’t be fooled by the price-tag because mastering the short-path is a tedious process! Depending on the type of crude material you plan on running through your SPD, you may need to invest in additional equipment such as chillers/heaters and aux condensers. Luckily – ColumboLabs has you covered with everything you need to know!
Systems typically range from $5k – $40K for some of the larger volume vessels and are highly modular and customizable.
- Pros: Low cost of entry and short lead times for systems. Highly versatile and customizable. Many vendor options ranging from Economy to Super high end.
- Cons: High learning curve. Capacity and through-put limitations. Non-continuous operation.
Like the SPD, the spinning-band systems feature a heating mantle and a boiling flask which contains the starting material or “Crude”. The main difference is a large corkscrew-shaped rod spins in the way of the “fractions” on their way up through the system. This allows for heavier compounds to climb slower up the “head” of the distillation still = more precise separation.
These systems are highly versatile and with the right modification can achieve high through-put. We tend to only see these in analytical and R&D facilities where a high level of refinement is desired and tight parameters are required. Great choice for refining terpenes and hunting/isolating rare cannabinoids/other compounds.
Systems typically range from $60k – $140K and are outfitted with a slew of analytical/data-collection equipment.
- Pros: Highly versatile and customizable. High Efficiency. Continuous operation.
- Cons: High cost of entry and long lead times. One primary manufacturer. Capacity and through-put limitations.
Wiped Film / Rolling Film:
Wiped Film systems or “WFE” (Wiped Film Evaporators) are probably the most complex systems to explain at first glance. Imagine a vertical heated tube through which crude is slowly fed from top down along the inside edge. Now imagine at the center of this tube is a set of blades (or sometimes rollers) which spin at high speeds smearing the incoming crude evenly around the inside as it slowly descends downwards in a “thin film”. Meanwhile at the center of this heated tube is a rod (condenser) which is set to a lower temperature than the outside tube. The results are fascinating – as the heated crude descends downwards through the system, any and all compounds that can evaporate off the sides re-condense around the center rod, and flow downwards into a receiving flask. The rest of the unevaporated sludge continues to flow downward along the inner edge of the heated tube and collects in a separate vessel deemed “Reject” – which is then discarded or re-ran to ensure yield thoroughness.
Systems typically range from $100k – $500K+ and are the popular choice for large manufacturers of distillate because they can be scaled to do immense throughput in a short amount of time.
- Pros: High throughput, high efficiency. Continuous operation. Scalable.
- Cons: High cost of entry and long lead times. Low versatility, many passes required to achieve desired level of product purity.
As they say, there’s many of ways to get the job done when considering which equipment to use. Distillation is highly rewarding and fun – but you must keep in mind the scope of your operation when designing your lab. Cost of the equipment vs. ease of use is also a factor; you can get a lot more bang for your buck with SPD, but sometimes going the way of WFE is the logical next step for scaling as well as continuous operation. For some of the more exotic separations and refinement of terpenes, a spinning-band system may be required. With cannabis decriminalization and regulation going mainstream, manufacturing is on the rise! Understanding what type of system you will purchase can make a huge difference for your future success.