Co-Founder and Chief of Technology Officer, Ray Van Lenten was recently interviewed and featured in California Leaf Magazine. Read the full interview below:
One of the most exciting new companies the Cannabis industry has produced of late is TruSteel, an extraction solutions company, and manufacturer based in Grass Valley. If extraction is part of your business plan, this is a company you need to know about. In terms of hydrocarbon extraction, we’ve come a very long way in a short time. First, there was open blasting, then came selectively adapted and modified botanical extraction equipment and cooking hardware, then eventually the first closed-loop systems were built in the late 90s. Fast forward a couple of decades later and we’re looking at an entirely different landscape in the world of Cannabis concentrate production. What was originally pioneered and shared by the nerdier (and maybe braver) Cannabis connoisseurs has now been rocketed into the next dimension with the help of recreational legalization. These days, in order to run a legal lab you have to satisfy multiple states, city, and county agencies, having them sign off on your facilities, operating procedures, and equipment before you can obtain a license. And even after jumping through the hoops to get licensed, many continue to operate in the same old fashion they always did – not realizing that we are living in a new age and the game has changed. Today, data is everything. Every aspect of a process can be traceable and essentially nobody is taking advantage of all the data you can capture while extracting Cannabis. TruSteel saw the gap in the market and has stepped up to fill it in a big way.
We caught up with Ray Van Lenten, Co-Founder and Chief Technology Officer at TruSteel, to learn more about the company, its hardware, and why it’s so revolutionary in the extraction world.
How would you quantify TruSteel as a business?
We like to think we’re shifting more towards a solutions-based company, rather than a product-based company. We pride ourselves on educating our customers and working with them to get them exactly what they need. We’re an OEM – Original Equipment Manufacturer. We have found necessities in the Cannabis and biopharmaceutical extraction market and aim to fill that gap with a standardized product.
How and when did TruSteel come to life?
I founded the company in 2015 and made a lot of connections, having figured out how to make distillate early on when the tech was still underground and information on the subject was not widely available. I handled a lot of toll processing contracts and built a really great network that way. AB266 came into play in California and legalization started progressing. My interests shifted and I got bored processing. The most exciting part of it for me was building bigger, newer, more efficient machines. We incorporated in July 2017, just Andrew and I, in a 2,800 sq. ft. warehouse. Our first product was a 12×28 jacketed vessel, a really simple but versatile product. At the same time, I was experimenting with building falling film evaporators to replace the rotovaps we’d all been using. With each order of vessels that came in, I’d get a few new parts and pieces to build the prototype falling film. I demoed the first unit and someone bought it on the spot! At the time, this technology didn’t exist elsewhere. I knew we could change the game and so we set out to build the first five production model AV15s. After those sold quickly, we began working on the bigger, fully automated AV30 and it’s just taken off from there.
What type of equipment is TruSteel currently manufacturing?
Our main focus is around the cold ethanol extraction market, but we also specialize in post-refinement techniques such as short path distillation, chromatography, and color/pesticide remediation. Our equipment was designed around the industry-standard basket centrifuge flow rates, so we focus mainly on systems to support this. We have an inline solvent cooler with adjustable temp down to -55 C, filtration, solvent recovery, decarboxylation, and wiped film evaporators – all designed to be able to run stand-alone, or we can package them together with tanks and all the pumps and process piping necessary to build one big networked system. These usually range from 100-300lbs per hour, but we can do anything from 15 up to tens of thousands of pounds per hour. We’ve also designed our machines to be compatible with pretty much every liquid (at room temp) solvent for maximum versatility.
What sort of efficiency can someone expect when operating one of your machines?
That’s a good question and one I’ll counter with one of my own: How are you quantifying efficiency? We see 99%-plus recovery efficiency with our solvent recovery machines – it’s our standard. As in, if you put 100 gallons of solvent in, you should be recovering over 99 gallons of solvent with one of our units. We also have the most compact machine with the highest throughput per square foot. Are TruSteel’s units designed for hemp processing, Cannabis processing, or both? Definitely both. There has been a niche market for ethanol processing for the THC side, but I think hydrocarbons are really the pinnacle of that world. However, our equipment still shines when it comes to supporting post-refinement techniques like crystallization and remediation on the THCa side.
Did things change for the business when COVID-19 hit?
We have really bolstered our installation documents and processes. We have been able to install a lot of our equipment almost entirely remotely and the project management team has done a fantastic job adapting to this scenario. We are able to work with the client and their local contractors to get the job done. So far our customers have been really ecstatic about it. One of the unique things about our software is that it has a remote access feature, so we can log in to a client’s machine from across the globe and help them troubleshoot if needed.
Is there anything on the horizon for TruSteel we should know about?
A lot of cool stuff is in the works! We have a fully automated, continuous 300lb per hour pilot plant that only requires two operators launching soon. The technology is infinitely scalable as well. We have broken away from the batch style basket centrifuges and adopting a continuous version, all with cleanability and impending FDA regulations in mind. It boasts 98% cannabinoid extraction efficiency and also renders the waste material that comes out completely inert, unlike the basket centrifuge. Without flammability risk, the waste material becomes easily transportable and also compostable or available as feedstock for a local farmer. We are working hard to tap into international markets as well. We’re pretty close to obtaining our CE mark on the AutoVap, which includes ATEX and a ton of other European standard certifications – it’ll be a year-long process by the time we’re done, but well worth it. Another big change for us is switching from prototyping in real life to designing our machines entirely from our in-house developed SolidWorks library. It has really advanced our creation abilities and allows us to run flow simulations and all the calculations necessary to design a fully functional plant. We can also generate lifelike 3D animations and exploded diagram views for our manuals directly from the models. We are already in the pharmaceutical market and are hoping to tap into the food and beverage, and nutraceutical industries soon as well. We are building all our equipment to be extremely compliant with all agencies and new regulations, including the FDA and UL. And we are always working towards more domestically produced components. We are currently about 80% domestic with our supply chain and trying to support jobs in America – doing our best to work with local businesses and community outreach.
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