Industry: Cannabis & Hemp
Products: Solventless cannabis extraction equipment
Founder Ben Britton utilizes his engineering expertise to create machines that use heat and pressure to produce solventless cannabis extractions.
"Rosin is, in its most common definition, the cannabis oils that are extracted using heat and pressure," explains Britton. "It's a solventless extraction so [there are] no chemicals involved. We're just using heat to liquefy the oils, and then pressure to mobilize them through a filter material."
Take cannabis plant material and put it in a filter bag, and then place it in one of Britton's machines. Use the LCD touchscreen to manually set the heat and pressure settings -- or select one of the 30 preexisting recipes programmed into the system. The machine's "aircraft-grade aluminum" plates heat up the material (200 degrees and under produces the best-quality results, Britton advises) and a vise-like pneumatic pressure -- exerting five or eight tons of force, depending on the model -- automatically pushes the oils out of the plant material and through a filter bag. Over a pressing time of about five minutes, the resulting rosin is collected.
Britton says, "With our press, we can make essentially any cannabis concentrate on the market in one form or another." As examples, he cites shatter, butter, wax, sauce, and THCA diamonds.
Why would someone in the cannabis industry consider employing solventless extraction, as opposed to extractions generated by hydrocarbons or carbon dioxide?
"We certainly have the lowest cost of equipment to enter the market," says Britton. "If someone spends $10,000 or 20,000 on equipment with us, oftentimes within the first eight hours, or even a couple of days, they've made their money back on that equipment. They're net positive at that point."
To create hydrocarbon extractions, Britton points out that there's more complicated and expensive equipment needed, and the hydrocarbon-extraction makers needs to work within ventilated, specially-designed, explosion-proof rooms that meet government safety codes. Using PurePressure machines, Britton says, "You might save $250,000 to $1 million just in licensing alone, because you're not dealing with those higher [regulatory] standards."
And while butane and carbon dioxide extractions are still the sales leaders in the marketplace, Britton says that tastes are evolving: "[For] most connoisseurs and people that are more particular about taste and terpene quality, we actually happen to test the highest in those areas. We have the most flavorful products that come from solventless extracts, so a lot of our products are consumed by connoisseurs." He adds, "The highest growth in consumption is in the solventless category."
Britton's machines include models named Pikes Peak and Longs Peak, which respectively run for $5,995 and $7,400. (There are also less expensive machines that use a manual twist press, rather than pneumatics). The machines are made with locally sourced parts at PurePressure's plant in an industrial park in southern Denver, overlooking the South Platte River.
Team members assemble pneumatic parts in one area, electronics in another, and then all the needed parts are joined together. (There are even two 3D printers at the plant, primarily used for prototyping.) "We go through all our [quality-control] testing in-house to make sure that we're up to engineering standards," says Britton, 31, who received his mechanical engineering degree at CU in Boulder.
While Britton certainly knows his engineering, he admits, "I came in knowing nothing" about rosin presses before starting PurePressure. His friend and co-founder, Josh Rutherford -- who is also the co-owner of the extraction company Kush Masters -- convinced Britton that he could design something better than what was currently on the market. When Britton looked at existing models he basically saw "repurposed T-shirt presses" -- the kind that are used to apply decals to T-shirts. "I started thinking about the physics of it," he says.
He also did some reverse engineering: He learned what size and dimension of filter bag produced the best results for pressing oils -- and then he built a machine that would utilize that particular bag.
Britton says close to a thousand of PurePressure's machines are in operation across the country, and that business "doubles every year."
He also recently designed a washing vessel used for ice-water extractions -- which remove the plant's THC oil-containing trichomes from the bud material. Britton says, "A lot of people consider the bud the final product or the fruit of the cannabis plant. But we like to think of the trichome heads as the actual fruit, because a bud itself might be only 5 percent trichome heads when it's wet, and after an ice water extraction process, we've removed 95 percent of the inert biomass. So, now we're dealing with a product that's a fraction of the size, and much more potent, [which makes] storage easier than bulk storing flower. As time goes on, we'll see a transition from flower to [trichome heads] as the raw material."
Britton, who was previously employed for for five years at "a large manufacturing company," says, "Working in [the cannabis] industry has been a total blessing, it's been an absolute blast. I think it's really fun as an engineer and designer to come into something where there [are] years and years of people struggling with the wrong tools and the wrong equipment and the wrong process, but they didn't really have anywhere to go, because of the legality behind it. And now the floodgates have opened, and it's incredible to be in a position where the opportunity to develop new products is literally endless."
Challenges: Britton says it's prioritization: "We have a thousand things that we want to work on, and narrowing that down to the handful that we should be working on is probably the most difficult thing that we run into."
Opportunities: "The growth and spread of solventless throughout the world," says Britton. "If you talk to people that are heavily involved in the cannabis industry, the majority of them have very limited knowledge on solventeless, let alone the rest of the world. So, we see that we're at the tip of the iceberg -- and it's really nothing but growth from here."
Needs: "More resources," says Britton. "We've got a lot of projects that we want to tackle. Our customers are great and they give us lots of feedback. I just wish I could get the results sooner."