Series on Sustainability: The Cannabis project

Extraction of active compounds from Cannabis for medicinal purposes is a fast-growing industry. During the extraction of these active compounds, plant waxes are co-extracted and must be removed from the extracts to enable the purification of the active compounds. The removed waxes contain significant amounts of active compounds that get lost in the process. This represents both an economic loss and a suboptimal utilisation of natural resources.

To enhance the sustainability of the medicinal cannabis processing industry, the Department of Chemical Engineering has embarked on a research initiative. “In this project”, according to Neill Goosen, Associate Professor at the Department, “we have developed a method to separate the active components from the wax, firstly to return the active compounds to the purification process, and secondly, to enable the utilisation of the waxes in other applications.” This circular economy approach ensures that resources are optimally utilised.

Regarding the outcomes of the project, the research has been very successful thus far. “We have already published three scientific papers and we hold an international patent for the process. We are busy engaging with local medicinal cannabis processing operations to showcase our results and to establish whether there is a route for implementing our work in the industry,” says Goosen.

The anticipated impact of the research in terms of sustainability is significant. “We are employing chemical engineering principles to extract more valuable products from the same amount of original plant material, potentially decreasing the overall amount of waste produced in the medicinal cannabis industry.” Goosen hopes to see their work contribute to the growth of the cannabis industry in a sustainable way, especially in South Africa.


For further reading on this project, follow these links:

Duminy, J.M., Goosen, N.J., Pott, R., Van Rensburg, E., 2023. Development of a solvent screening methodology for cannabinoid recovery from a wax by-product via recrystallisation. Biomass Conversion and Biorefinery.

Duminy, J.M., Goosen, N.J., Van Rensburg, E., Arries, W., Mokwena, L., Kotobe, L., Pott, R., 2023. Application of different chromatographic techniques to characterise wax by-products generated during cannabinoid extraction (accepted). Biomass Conversion and Biorefinery.

Duminy, J.M., Van Rensburg, E., Pott, R. Goosen, N.J. Solvent-assisted recrystallisation for the recovery of cannabinoids from Cannabis extraction by-products (accepted). Industrial Crops and Products.