Cash Crop Today Interview with Dean Segal of Pope Scientific

Pope Scientific has been at the forefront of manufacturing chemical processing equipment, engineered systems and laboratory apparatus for science and industry. Today Pope is internationally known – with specialized technical expertise in design and manufacture of chemical processing equipment


1) How did Pope Scientific get started? What lead you to working with the company?

Pope was founded in 1963 by a chemist-physicist named Paul Humbacher for the purpose of providing a variety of apparatus to laboratories and pilot plants.  In 1988 when I started, I saw interesting opportunities to apply my chemical engineering and biochemistry background to enhancing and expanding Pope’s product lines, including greater offerings of production processing equipment.  The wiped-film molecular distillation line was of particular interest at the time.


2) What exactly is molecular distillation in regard to cannabinoid extraction?

Extraction carries out the important role of dissolving out of plant material, the desired cannabinoids such as THC and CBD and terpenes. But certain other materials, (lighter and heavier compounds), come along with it and should be removed for best product.  That’s where distillation comes in. Molecular distillation will take extract from a typical ~ 65% cannabinoid content, up to mid-80’s%, and into the mid-90’s% if re-distilled in another pass.  Yield of available cannabinoid is very good and color is improved as well, going from typical muddy color to a clear yellow appearance. This is a high vacuum, highly efficient, scalable, continuous process with a heating residence time of a matter of seconds, in contrast to “short path” batch stills which cook and partially degrade the materials over several hours, decreasing yield.  (It is interesting that these other so- called “short path” stills are uniquely misnamed in this particular industry. The term refers to a very short distance between the evaporating and condensing surfaces which is the case with wiped film molecular stills where an internal condenser is a key design element; but is not the case at all with the simple batch flask stills falsely named “short paths” where the condenser is a considerable distance away from the boiling surface, resulting in less efficient vacuum distillation).


3) Would you be capable of producing a full-spectrum cannabidiol oil by utilizing molecular distillation? Would you be capable of leaving terpenes intact or distilling the terpenes themselves?

Normally, whatever useable terpenes remaining from prior processing are distilled away from the cannabinoids.  But these can sometimes be collected and added back to product, and sometimes other terpenes are added in if desired.


4) What sort of finished products can be manufactured by utilizing molecular distillation to produce cannabinoids?

The majority of distillates wind up in vape cartridges. Other end products include tinctures, syringe droppers, edibles, beverages, dab, shatter, and others.


5) Would you be capable of isolating singular cannabinoid compounds?

Not with molecular distillation alone.  The molecular weights and boiling points are very close.  However, some customers have reported varying degrees of success with Pope’s Hybrid Still Systems, combining wiped film still bodies with packed fractional columns providing multiple theoretical plates for more efficient separations.


6) Can you use both cannabis and industrial hemp throughout this process?

Definitely. THC was the first wave of cannabinoid processing applications, and now CBD from hemp is a major wave as well.  In the latter wave, we are talking about significantly larger industrial scale distillation systems.  Pope has excellent experience in such systems, including equipment even larger than these, used in many other industries.


7) What sort of equipment is needed in order to complete the molecular distillation of cannabinoids?

In addition to the wiped-film molecular still units, we incorporate vacuum pumps, liquid pumps, external condensers, cold traps, heaters, chillers and instrumentation for control and monitoring.  For once-through, skid mounted multistage fully turnkey systems, there are multiple still units, enhanced instrumentation including precision flowmeters and often computer-PLC control and recording systems.


8) Does Pope Scientific assist in the setup process of your distillation systems for your clients?

We include free training and demonstration with every still system at our facility which covers everything.  For most clients this works well.  For clients that need installation and training services on site, we quote nominal amounts based on extent of services requested.
Normally for larger turnkey systems, installation will be included.


9) How have you seen the cannabinoid industry expand over the course of the past decade?

The first cannabinoid customer application goes back to 2003–for CBD concentration from hemp which was tossed out as waste from hemp seed oil processing.  There was one more university unit for THC research that followed and then cannabinoid applications were quiet until late 2014, when demand started back up with a couple of orders for our lab scale 2” units and then took off like crazy, with more and larger size still systems being requested.  Every year since, there have been substantial increases in sales for the cannabis industry.


10) Does Pope Scientific offer distillation machines for small scale operators and larger scale industrial operations?

Yes.  Our 2” standard Cannastill model is great for a group distilling from 100 ml, up to 2 liters/day and our standard 4” and 6” units are available for up to 5 and 10 liters/day each.  We have a popular multistage turnkey all-stainless steel system capable of up to 10 kg/hr, and larger systems which can approach 100 kg/hr if needed.  In addition, Wiped Film Evaporators (WFEs) are offered in all sizes for continuous evaporation and concentration – an alternate to rotary evaporators which are not as friendly to situations of increased production needs.


Cash Crop Today would like to extend a special thanks for everyone at the Pope Scientific team!