When designing cultivation facilities or other business types, the design process typically starts with first choosing a property, then choosing a building, and then designing the equipment and systems to outfit the building. When it comes to hemp extraction, we actually recommend the opposite: start with choosing your processing method, then design your facility and systems, and finally choose a property that will work for the building you have designed.
Hemp extraction typically involves the use of hazardous materials, which can affect a number of building and property codes and regulations. In addition, the type and quantity of hazardous materials can make a big difference in facility design and considerations, such as where materials will be located. If you choose your building and/or property before you’ve defined which extraction method you’ll be using, you may find yourself in a position where the building and/or property you’ve purchased or leased won’t actually work for your facility – which is a major setback for both your schedule and your budget.
As discussed in Step One of this series, hemp extraction facility design depends greatly on your chosen extraction method and your desired throughput. Before you deep dive into the facility design process, you should already have chosen your UL-listed or third-party peer reviewed extraction equipment, and have an understanding of what you want your system(s) to look like. Another important consideration that should be addressed early on in the facility design process is the space needed for your equipment.
Equipment Space Needs
While Step One involves choosing your desired throughput and subsequently, equipment, Step Two involves placing these systems in your facility and designing the rest of the spaces around these systems. Many pieces of equipment involved in an extraction system have space requirements that will greatly impact the design of your entire facility, and can be extremely costly and time-consuming to remedy after the fact. In our experience, most extraction facility design projects that do not bring on an engineering and architecture team early enough in the process risk space mismanagement issues.
As an example, a dedicated electrical room or area removed from the extraction process is typically required to store the multiple electrical panels, transformers, transfer switches, lighting control panels and other building service equipment. Space for large heating, cooling and ventilation (HVAC) equipment is another common area business owners may neglect to consider. Bringing on an experienced mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) engineering team early on in the process will help you avoid making costly mistakes.
Classified spaces are another important safety concern that should be addressed early on in the facility design process. Certain factors involved in the extraction process can lead to different spaces throughout your facility falling into different code classifications. The two areas we typically run into classified space issues deal with flammable gases, vapors or liquids and dust and fiber.
- Flammable liquids: The use of flammable gases, vapors or liquids in the extraction process can lead to spaces in your facility being classified as either Class I Division 1 or Class I Division 2. Class I Division 1 is an area where ignitable concentrations of flammable gases, vapors or liquids exist during normal operation. This classification leads to more stringent HVAC and electrical requirements and more expensive light fixtures and receptacles. Class I Division 2 is an area where ignitable concentrations of flammable gases, vapors or liquids are used during normal operation, but are confined within a closed system or concentrations are managed through air change rates. This classification usually results in less stringent HVAC and electrical requirements and less expensive light fixtures and receptacles. Both classifications require the involvement of a professional mechanical and electrical engineering team. Some unfamiliar with the facility design process specifically with hemp extraction may assume the entire room needs to be classified into one of these categories, but this is often overly conservative and certain areas of the room can be classified to meet all regulatory requirements. It is critical to get this step right: an over-designed facility can result in tens of thousands of dollars in unnecessarily classified equipment, but an under-designed facility can be a serious safety hazard.
- Dust and fiber: Similarly, dust and fiber concerns are often overlooked, but can be very dangerous if not addressed properly. Processes involving combustible dust are either classified as Class II Division 1 or Class II Division 2 depending on the quantities of explosive or ignitable mixtures present in the air. Processes involving ignitable fibers may be Class III Division 1 or Class III Division 2 depending on how ignitable fibers are stored, handled, manufactured or used. If you don’t believe us that this is a big deal, just google “dust explosion.”
Open vs. Closed Systems: Which do you have?
Determining whether or not your systems are open or closed will have a great impact on the facility design process, especially when it comes to your hazardous occupancy classification. Generally speaking, open systems are far more dangerous than closed systems and will trigger a hazardous occupancy classification far sooner in the process. A closed system is defined as the use of a hazardous material involving a closed vessel or a system that remains closed during normal operations (vapors are not liberated outside of the vessel or system). An example of a closed system would be product conveyed through a piping system into a closed vessel or other piece of equipment. An open system is defined as the use of a hazardous material involving a vessel or system that is continuously open to the atmosphere during normal operations where vapors are liberated, or the product is exposed to the atmosphere. Examples of open systems include dispensing from or into open beakers or containers, dip tank and plating tank operations.
There are many factors that go into hazardous occupancy classification, and because code officials may interpret definitions differently, the process can be difficult to navigate. One of the common areas in which we see clients struggle is when a piece of extraction equipment (ie. the extractor) may be a closed process, but that does not necessarily mean that the entire system is a closed system. Equipment manufacturers are not always explicit in their verbiage, so don’t just take their word for it. An experienced design team can help you navigate the process and avoid common complications and nuances.
- Electrical and Power Requirements: Electrical and power systems are important primary considerations as they can be quite expensive, or even impossible, to change down the line. Emergency power, hazardous classifications and flammability will all play a role in electrical and power decisions.
- OSHA Requirements: A number of occupational health and safety regulations will apply to employers of a hemp extraction facility. Elements like emergency facilities, dust mitigation, injury and illness prevention, electrical hazards, hazard communication, and many more are all important to consider in the facility design process. An Environmental Health and Safety expert should be part of your design team to determine policies and avoid OSHA fines, which can be tens of thousands of dollars.
- Food Safety: Extracts are often considered a food product, and therefore may be subject to food safety requirements regarding hand sinks, water filtration, air filtration, and ventilation – just to name a few. Our recommendation is to pay attention to hand sinks, as they are often required in more places than you might think. Consult with your local health department and agricultural department for more information.
- Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP): GMP certification is becoming more and more common in the cannabis space, which involves processes that ensure product is consistently produced and controlled according to quality standards. We encourage our clients to follow the track of GMP certification by working with the right GMP consultants.
Because the facility design process is the most complex stage of starting a hemp extraction facility, we’ve broken this step into two parts. Step Two, Part Two of this series will more deeply explore hazardous occupancy classification, which involves your entire design and engineering team and will set us up for the final step in the process, choosing a property.
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