Cannabis Production and Quality Control

Ultrasonic Energy Cleans Cannabis Equipment

According to Fortune Business Insights, the global cannabis market is projected to grow from $28.266 billion in 2021 to $197.74 billion in 2028 at a CAGR of 32.04% in forecast period, 2021-2028.  These growth projections along with stringent regulations require the cannabis industry adopt proven methods to clean cannabis equipment.  Ultrasonic energy is highly effective to remove gummy contaminants and other unwanted residues from cannabis processing glassware. 

Cannabis Equipment Cleaning Challenges*

The cannabis distillation process can be called a “high-maintenance activity” because glass used in short path distillation is susceptible to being highly soiled with baked on and polymerized contaminants.  The distillation process involves crude concentrates that are boiled until the desired components are distilled out, leaving behind unwanted residues.

Options for Cleaning Glass Cannabis Processing Equipment

One option is using caustic chemicals to remove tenacious residues. Here are three downsides to this practice:

  1. When caustic chemicals are used, the residence time for glass can be lengthy in order to break through layers of plasticization, thus delaying return to service. 
  2. Regulations may stipulate caustic chemicals create hazardous working condition that must be mitigated by adjustments to internal operating procedures.
  3. The chemicals are dangerous to handle at high concentrations and need to be disposed of safely and correctly.  This generally involves contracting with a chemical disposal service.  Depending on the service this may involve storing on site in containers such as 55-gallon drums. In addition to costs involved, stowing drums on site is in itself an undesirable situation.

Another option is hand scrubbing using abrasive mixtures. 

A much better, and more environmentally friendly option is using ultrasonic energy to clean cannabis equipment.

Ultrasonic Cleaning 101

Feel free to skip this explanation if you are familiar with the technology.

Ultrasound is generally described as sound above the range of human hearing – typically greater than 20,000 cycles per second (20 kHz).

Ultrasonic cleaners are fitted with transducers attached to the bottom and/or sides of a tank filled with a cleaning solution.

When activated by generators, transducers cause the tank bottom to serve as a vibrating membrane at frequencies measured in thousands of cycles per second (kilohertz), sending sound waves pulsing through the cleaning solution.

These waves produce millions of tiny vacuum bubbles that shoot out a powerful jet of liquid when imploding. The force of the implosions, called cavitation, lifts and carries away contaminants from objects being cleaned.

These implosions are so fast that the cleaning process is tough enough for engine parts but gentle enough for electronics, surgical instruments as well as glassware and other cannabis processing equipment.

A benefit of ultrasonic cleaning technology is that the cavitation that blasts away contaminants can occur inside round-bottom multi-necked flasks and similar containers immersed in and filled with the cleaning solution formulation.  This is because the sound waves pass through the glass to activate the cleaning solution inside.

Selection Criteria for an Ultrasonic Cleaner

As noted cleaning is accomplished in tanks that are offered in a wide range of capacities. 

Three things to consider.

  1. Measure the dimensions of the largest pieces of cannabis production equipment to be cleaned and make sure to select a tank that will accommodate them. 
  2. Baskets.  Cleaning is accomplished in parts baskets, the dimensions of which are slightly less than tank dimensions.
  3. Working Depth.  This is the distance from the inside bottom surface of the basket to the surface of the liquid in a filled tank.  It’s important because parts being cleaned must be fully immersed in the liquid.

Ultrasonic Cleaner Features for Cleaning Cannabis Equipment

Ultrasonic cleaners are available in most any price range.  Some basic units feature a simple “on-off” control while others can offer a variety of features, some of which, in addition to tank size, are important to cleaning short path distillation glassware.

Ultrasonic Frequency

Ultrasonic frequency determines the size of the vacuum bubbles that do the scrubbing. A frequency such as 35 kHz releases a cleaning energy that can remove exceedingly tenacious deposits on cannabis production equipment.  Examples are the 37 kHz Elma E Plus line available from Tovatech. 

Frequencies such as  80 kHz or higher can more effectively penetrate narrow apertures such as in tubing and fine featured complex surfaces .

Because short path distillation can create a variety of cleaning challenges dual-frequency ultrasonic cleaners may prove more cost-effective in the long run.   Examples include the dual frequency Elmasonic P line, the latter especially designed for long cleaning cycles.

6 Useful Features for Cleaning Cannabis Equipment

Among features offered by ultrasonic cleaner manufacturers 6 may prove particularly useful.

  1. Sweep is a small but automatic ± variation in ultrasonic frequency.  What it does is provide uniform distribution of cavitation action thereby avoiding areas of no or intense cleaning plus what is called harmonic vibration.
  2. Degas speeds the removal of cavitation-inhibiting trapped air in fresh cleaning solutions.  While this can be accomplished by running the equipment with no cleaning load, it is faster especially when using large cleaning tanks.
  3. Pulse provides a boost of ultrasonic energy and is activated to remove particularly tenacious contaminants.
  4. Variable power (together with ultrasonic frequency options) allows users to develop optimum cleaning programs based on what is being cleaned and the nature of the contaminants.
  5. Timers allow operators to “set and forget” cleaning cycle duration, freeing them up to perform other tasks.
  6. Heaters bring the cleaning solution formulation to the temperature recommended by the manufacturer.  While ultrasonic action in itself heats the solution, heaters do it faster.

Cleaning Formulations for Cannabis Processing Equipment

Cleaning the interior and exterior of cannabis processing equipment is necessary to ensure a quality end product for your markets while protecting your substantial investments in glassware and other tools. Ultrasonic cleaning solutions recommended for these applications include:

  • Elma Lab Clean A20SF (surfactant-free) for glassware, graduated cylinders, volumetric vessels and pipettes
  • Elma Tec Clean A1 for glass, ceramics, plastics and optics
  • Elma Tec Clean A4, a universal cleaner to remove a broad range of contaminants

These biodegradable ultrasonic cleaning solution concentrates, all available from Tovatech, are diluted with water and provide a highly economical solution to fast, thorough cleaning of your cannabis processing equipment.

Need More Info?

Contact the scientists at Tovatech for more information on the use of ultrasonic energy to clean cannabis equipment. 

*Portions of this post are excerpted from the article “Solving Glass-Cleaning Challenges in Short-Path Distillation of Cannabis Oils” published in the December 19, 2018, issue of Labcompare

About Bob Sandor

Bob began working as a chemist in 1987 and remains a science geek to this day. After his PhD he worked on the bench in materials and inorganic chemistry for 10 years. He then took on a love for marketing and sales. He combined his passion for science and business and took entrepreneur general management positions in large corporations like Hoecsht Celanese now Sanofi Aventis, Bel-Art and Smiths Detection. There he learned what it would take to run a business and finally Tovatech was co-founded in 2006. Bob’s hobbies include playing, listening and composing music, skiing, working out, the internet and all things science. Read More