EtOH PRO by ExtractCraft: Beta-Testing

Overview of looking at the unit

I finally got my hands on the first EtOH PRO beta test unit by ExtractCraft (www.extractcraft.com) to run and stress test in the mad lab.  The similarities in ExtractCraft design and engineering between the EtOH PRO and earlier Source Turbo are obvious, they both appear to be stylish but designed to take a beating.  EtOH certainly appears more elegant than most appliances destined for the workbench.  It’s a seriously solid industrial quality design and built like a tank (36 lbs).  Just looking at it makes me feel like a powerful herbal wizard.

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Operation of the unit is pretty intuitive and simple.  The kettle that holds the starting tincture/wash is easy to handle and plugs into the main chassis using plugs similar to a hot pot and nicely guided by a pair of train track like rails on the base.

plugs

 

I was a little skeptical of the kettle’s Teflon non-stick coating, so I did some research.  It turns out that the only valid health concern with Teflon is the off gassing of polytetrafluoroethylene (PTFE) at high temperatures.  Since EtOH operates at around 100°F, close to body temperature, there is no danger of this happening and using it in EtOH appears to be perfectly safe.  This article by the American Cancer Society was helpful for me to better understand the material https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/teflon-and-perfluorooctanoic-acid-pfoa.html.

The control panel has a single button and a single dial for the simplified management of EtOH and the performance parameters.  The button is used to start/stop the unit as well as for the interface for the altitude tuning. The dial is very straight forward with two sections: “Extract” and “Purge”.  “Extract” has a temperature range of about 96°F-105°F and is used for reducing the initial wash to oil and reclaiming 98% of the ethanol for reuse.  “Purge” is a new function that allows you to use the kettle for post processing (a separate lid and aux pump are required to use as a heated vac chamber) with a temperature range of 80°F-110°F.  The controls couldn’t be easier to use.

control panel

Looking at EtOH, I can see the flow of how it works.  Once the unit is started, the tincture in the kettle will boil at the chosen temperature, the ethanol will evaporate through the tube on the lid, enter the condenser and empty into the mason jar, reclaiming almost all of the ethanol for reuse.  Simple enough, now I have to try it!

Preparation

MATERIAL:  For this beta unit test run I decided to use 16 oz of the cheapest dispensary flower that I could find on sale, and it all ended up being low-mids at best.  I ended up with a combination indicas or indica heavy hybrids: Dawg Waltz, Tahoe Alien, and some Fruity Pebbles.

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It’s important to note that all of this was labeled at 15%, so in reality they are probably not even that.  I expected my yield to be quite limited largely due to this simple fact, but buying 16 oz of material for testing is very expensive, and with no way to recoup the expense, whatever was on sale and cheap was perfect for the task.  In addition to a lower yield, there’s more that I anticipated from this material.  I anticipated the final product having a rich amber color due to the heavy indica influence and the mid/low-grade flower quality.  Having said all that, nothing could stop me from using it to make fire with the EtOH PRO.

MATERIAL PREPARATION:  Before putting the cannabis and ethanol into the freezer separately for 24 hours, I’m broke up the nugs by hand, being careful to disassemble them rather than rip them apart.  I cause the least amount of tearing possible, which will give the best and cleanest wash.

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(Looking at this photo again now, it’s clear I should have broken up the pieces quite a bit more but I was in a hurry and this defiantly had a negative effect on the final yield)

For ease of handling I separated the flower into three 1-gallon Zip Lock freezer bags containing 5 1/3 oz each, gently squeezed the air out, sealed, and placed the three bags in the freezer with 2-gallons of 190-proof food grade ethanol.  It takes about 24-hours for the cannabis and ethanol to both cool to the point necessary for a quality extraction.  The ethanol was -5°F when I removed it to begin the wash.

 

Pre-processing

WASH:  I hadn’t worked with this material yet, and I was processing 1 lb, so it would’ve been smart to take a couple small samples to do test washes and establish exactly how long the wash can be pushed to maximize yield and still avoid any degree of green contamination.  Instead, my focus was on running EtOH and reviewing the machine’s performance so I went straight to an easy and safe 5-minute wash to grab the good stuff and move on.  The short wash and low quality of the material, will have a serious adverse effect on yield but I’ll have a very high-quality first wash.  Later I’ll run the same material through a second wash to make some great FECO and recover everything that was left behind.

EtOH PRO has a maximum capacity is 4-liters (1-gallon) of wash and is the perfect size for processing 1 lb of dry material at a time.  About 0.5-gallons went into each of the three zip lock bags containing the flower for a total of 1.5-gallons used for the wash process.  Each bag containing the combined flower and ethanol were returned to the freezer and agitated gently every minute for 5-minutes.  Once the time was up I moved onto straining and filtering.

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STRAIN AND FILTER:  The first straining pass goes through a very fast flow mesh strainer like in the photo above, then through two stacked metal mesh coffee filters, and finish with two passes through a 5L vac assisted flask and Buchner funnel with slow flow filters (approx. 3 micron).  The resulting wash a little less than 4L, losing about the 1/3 of the ethanol to the plant matter.  Substantially more of the ethanol could be recovered if I squeezed it out of the material, or let it slowly drain through a screen, but since maximum recovery of ethanol from the plant material was not my focus, I left all that for another day and directed all of my full attention to processing the gorgeous and perfectly clean wash I created. The wash is beautiful and you can see the characteristics of the strains and materials used by observing the color of the wash.  This is going to be good!

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Running EtOH

LOADING KETTLE:  Finally, getting to the main purpose of this exercise and actually using the EtOH PRO.  The first order of business is loading the kettle with wash, it’s as simple and straight forward as filling any pot with water.  The 4L max capacity fills the kettle nearly to the top.

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(Lost the photo of filling the kettle so this photo is just for demonstration purposes, sorry)

STARTING EtOH, “EXTRACT”:  I set the dial to maximum performance in the “Extract” range, stated to operate at around 105°F, then with a push of the illuminated button the pumps and fans fired up and it was off to the races.  For the vacuum to establish both the lid for the reclaim jar and the kettle lid need to be positioned properly.  The vacuum seal took easily with just a little pressure applied to the kettle lid and small bubbles appeared very quickly inside the kettle.  The initial pump-down took about 3-minutes.  When EtOH fires up it sounds like it means business, the pumps aren’t quiet by any means but they’re also no louder than you should expect from vacuum pumps doing that much work in a short period of time.  There’s a great feature built into EtOH where you can plug your aux pump into the power outlet on the back of the unit, connect to the aux vacuum port, and the aux pump will work as a back up and shorten the pump-down time and recovery time significantly, resulting in higher performance and almost no pump activity.  I didn’t use this feature in my testing because I wanted to test EtOH as is, and in a harder environment than it was designed for.

RUNNING EtOH, “EXTRACT”:  Everyone that knows my work knows I like working from the most difficult position to find the operational tolerances, then work back to find optimal operating conditions, so I decided to run EtOH an uncooled garage on a warm day, no additional cooling, and an ambient temp of 87°F-90°F.  Knowing the machine is tuned for an ambient temperature of around 75°F I was expecting the additional heat to really take its toll on performance, but much to my displeasure, it didn’t seem to bother EtOH at all.  So, I decided to mess with it some more and see if I could get it twisted up a bit by starting and stopping the unit mid process as well as changing and experimenting with different altitude settings.  Again, the machine had no problem and was unaffected by my meddling with its Zen.  Stopping, opening, and restarting straight away didn’t bother it at all.  On restarting, it went through the regular initial pump down again and it got straight back to work with no trouble.  Changing the altitude to sea-level caused the pumps run non-stop, as expected.  I was working at 5,500’ so I ran it for a while set for 5,000′, then I ran it at 6,000′ for the remaining time.  When set to 5,000’ the pumps only ran once in a while but when changed to 6,000′ they didn’t run at all.  I didn’t accurately measure the difference in production rates between the two settings, but it appeared that when set to 5,000′ the production was a bit faster than at 6,000’.  What that means is there is a trade off between pump activity and production, so you have to choose the setting that best suits your situation, a little pump noise and faster production or no pump noise and slightly slower production.  Either way, the difference does not seem to be drastically significant.

The only small problem I encountered was in the beginning, when the kettle was filled to max capacity, the boiling was quite vigorous at times and a small amount of froth was sucked through the vacuum tube and slightly tainted the reclaim.  It was quite minor so it’s not a real problem, but at max capacity and max performance it will need to be watched in the beginning.  I’m guessing when this hits full production (not beta units) it may not be an issue.

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CHANGING RECLAIM CONTAINERS:  I was nervous when the reclaim jug was nearly full and needed to be changed for an empty one, but it turned out to be a non-event.  Push the on/off button twice, once to stop the process then the second time releases the vacuum.  With the vacuum released I removed the customer vac lid from the full container, placed it on a fresh empty container, pushed the “start/stop” button once to re-start and off she went, amazingly simple.  I’m still undecided if the reclaim container should be a 1/2-gallon or a full 1-gallon jug.  The max capacity of the kettle is 1-gallon so at first thought, I was inclined to think the reclaim container should also be 1-gallon, but after using the machine and considering it further, I’m not so sure.  The 1/2-gallon size is easier to handle, easier to keep out of the way, and would be appropriate for smaller runs, not every run has to be 1 lb.  The full 1-gallon size also makes sense because you wouldn’t have to change it mid-process, but if it isn’t filled all the way the extra head space would hold more air with moisture to settle in the alcohol.  The good news is you can actually use either one, and even though EtOH comes with the 1/2-gallon size any 1-gallon jar with a standard wide-mouth will work with no problem.

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Near the end, progress seemed to slow down a little when it was close to oil.  I think the harsh conditions I subjected the unit to was a large contributing factor to the slowdown, but even then, after 4 hours I was finished and had beautiful oil.  The design of the kettle, manageable size, and simple plug configuration on the base of the kettle made it very convenient to remove and easy to hold as I used a spatula to squeegee out my precious cargo.

 

My run took about 4-hours, however, if I hadn’t been changing the settings, running it in a hot environment, and providing stress in general to the process it would have finished in 3-3.5 hrs.  EtOH is supposed to reclaim around 98% of the ethanol used in the unit, and I reclaimed at least that much.

CLEANUP:  What cleanup?  A couple squirts with IPA and a wipe of the kettle took care of that and the reclaim was already bottled!  No real effort necessary for clean up.

Post-processing

RUNNING “PURGE”:  The second section on the control dial is green and labeled “Purge”.  The Purge setting is designed to turn the kettle into a post-processing heated chamber to be used as either a hot plate on its own, or as a straight vacuum chamber by using a standard vac lid and aux pump.

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Vacuum environments are pretty similar, but for comparison sake I put some of the oil in EtOH and the rest in the vac oven for post-processing, both at about 92°F, and I used the same burping and flipping cycles.  I have to say, this function on EtOH worked better than I expected in terms of simplicity and usability.

(On the left is the oil in the kettle and the on the right is the vac oven)

After a few days of purging, the final product of both samples, from EtOH and the vac oven, were essentially identical in quality.  With such comparable outcomes and ease of use, this post-processing feature on EtOH is a great option for people without more sophisticated equipment.

(left is from EtOH, right is from vac oven.  Its hard to tell from photos, but they are nearly identical)

FINAL PRODUCT:  Straight up FIRE is what I ended up with.  Just over 50g of fire, making the yield around a low, but completely expected 12%.  Remember a few things before making the obligatory, “why such a low yield” industry zombie comment.  First, the hardware has nothing to do with the yield, only the material and extraction process influence yield.  You will get out of the machine whatever you put into it.  Second, the starting material was labeled as 15%, which means it was probably only 10%-12% in reality, leaving a total harvestable cannabinoid content of a measly 45g-68g.  Third, I did an abbreviated 5-minute wash and didn’t focus on maximizing yield but insuring very high quality.  Fourth, as can be seen by the clarity of the end product, there’s no lipid and wax content carried in the weight.  Fifth, I should have broken up the nugs a bit more. Lastly, we will make up for the yield by running the starting material a second time to make some great FECO and grabbing all the goodness we left behind.

To finish this EtOH adventure, I combined the two samples into a single, very thick slab, then made some smaller, thinner 3g-5g samples to showcase the final beauty.

 

(These are all the same material, just particles off from the thick slab)

CONCLUSION

Ridiculously easy to use, nothing like it on the market, total game changer.

Thank you very much for reading!  Please take the time to have a look at my other great posts on many extraction topics, click here for the home page and enjoy!  Stay lifted!

 

 

 

 

 

 

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