David Staples: Edmonton cannabis plant part of Canadian push for global business

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Canada’s legalization of cannabis is boosting Edmonton cannabis companies like Radient Technologies, giving them a head start when it comes to developing new cannabis processing technology and products.

“You’re seeing the Canadians as the leaders globally,” says CEO Denis Taschuk of Radient, a company that uses microwave technology to extract pure Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and Cannabidiol (CBD) compounds from hemp and cannabis on an industrial scale. Those compounds will be used for multiple applications, from food and drinks to medications and vaping.

Radient is getting a head start on global competition partly because of the Trudeau government’s move to legalization but also because Radient has been a leader in microwave extraction of chemical compounds from natural plants for many years, the company having been founded by chemical engineer Steven Splinter in 2001. Splinter remans Radient’s chief technologist.

“I don’t ever pretend that we’re smarter than anybody else in the world,” Splinter says. “It’s just that we were doing this first and we’ve got a lead.”

The company has a large lab and plant in Edmonton, and will soon add yet another larger plant. It’s also entering into German, French and Spanish ventures.

“With what we bring to the table, we’re welcome in a lot of jurisdictions as well because we bring that professionalism and responsibility to the manufacturing side,” Taschuk says.


Denis Taschuk, president and CEO of Radient Technologies, poses for a photo in their laboratory in Edmonton. Radient has pioneered the use of microwave extraction of chemical compounds from natural plants. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Ian Kucerak Ian Kucerak /

Ian Kucerak/Postmedia

Radient has gone from 18 employees in 2010 to 100 right now. By next year, it will have as many as 200.

The company is built on microwave processes and technology developed in the 1990s by Environment Canada. At first the tech was used to extract ingredients out of plants for lab analysis. Splinter started Radient to look for commercial applications. “Our business is converting natural organic matter into valuable ingredients,” he says.

The microwave technology itself isn’t that unique, but with so many years working on it, Radient has developed all kinds of secret techniques to both use it efficiently and in a large-scale factory setting.

Raident has extracted valuable compounds from plants like algae, flax and rosemary, to sell to food, beverage and natural supplement makers, as well as to cosmetic and pharmaceutical companies.

One promising process had them extracting a highly active chemical from a root found in the United States, which a U.S. company felt could help treat pancreatic cancer. It took tons of the root to produce just one kilogram of the compound, but at first Radient could sell it for $250,000 per kg (the price later dropped). Radient sold 10-to-20 kilograms per month.

If the drug had worked it would have been a $75 million-per-year business for Radient, but in 2011 trials the drug had an adverse impact on cancer patients, which ended the program. 

In 2014, Radient started to move into cannabis, with things taking off in 2016 after it partnered with major producer Aurora, which bought 15 per cent of Radient.

There still exists a massive black market in cannabis, but Radient’s game is to help manufacture safe, reliable, entirely legal products. “We’ve got full quality programs in place that are required for quality assurance, quality control, safe production tracking, exactly as you’d do for any medicinal or pharmaceutical product,” Splinter says.

There are other ways to extract THC and CBD from cannabis and hemp, but none as efficient and reliable as microwave, Splinter says.  “Cannabinoids are expensive. You can’t afford to leave any reasonable amount unextracted and unusable. … We can do that very efficiently and very economically.”

THC and CBD will be added to all kinds of products, but one key will be consumer confidence, which will only come if customers know for sure that a product that advertises it has, for example, a 20-per-cent THC or CBD content actually has that, just as consumers are sure their beer has 5 per cent alcohol content and their vodka, rum or whisky has 40 per cent alcohol content.

Right now this is a work in progress, Taschuk says. “We do a lot of product testing and what we find is literally, almost without exception, the products that we’re testing, you look at the active content, whether it’s the THC or the CBD, it’s a miss.”

Radient recently did one test of a commercial product of THC-laced gummy bear candy. Some of the gummies had only traces of THC, but a few of them had 30 times the amount of TCH they were supposed to have.

So the industry remains a work in progress.

But being first in on so much of this work, a company like Radient is gaining insights and learning processes that latecomers will have a hard time matching.



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March 27, 2019 |

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