Co2 Extraction Tips

TRADELABOR has more than 20 years of experience in the control and treatment of air, working with an experienced and qualified technical staff and with the most advanced technology in this area, which together guarantee the quality of the services provided.



Tip: Invest in your solvent.

“When sourcing CO2, look for food grade (99.5 percent pure) or better. To avoid contamination, purchase new, dedicated cylinders that can be refilled by a reputable vendor. Have more cylinders on hand than needed to operate your extractor so you can easily replenish your solvent and avoid downtime.”

Tip: Quality flower = quality extract.

“The better the quality of dried cannabis you put in, the better the overall yield and higher potency oil you’ll get out. Performing an extraction run using ground flower containing minimal leaves and stems will give you the best cannabinoid yield and minimize the amount of chlorophyll and other undesirable components in the extract.”

Tip: Optimize your methods.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment. Manufacturers of CO2 extraction equipment generally recommend a set of parameters for cannabis extraction. While this serves as a good starting point, I encourage you to systematically experiment with different pressures, temperatures and run times to determine which settings work best for your material and process. When experimenting with different parameters, keep it simple. Only change one setting at a time so you know what impact that change had on the extraction run. Another thing to keep in mind when optimizing your extraction method is your lab’s workflow–do you want to selectively extract terpenes and cannabinoids in order to minimize post-processing, or do you perform other methods of purification on the extracted oil? Run time should also be considered. Is it better to sacrifice yield for faster extraction? All of these questions should be carefully weighed when developing your extraction methods.”

Right: Raw cannabis extract obtained through supercritical CO2 extraction. Left: LeafLine Labs is one of two medical cannabis manufacturers licensed by the state of Minnesota. All medications produced by LeafLine Labs are formulated from cannabis oil obtained through CO2 extraction of cannabis plants grown on-site at its 42,000-plus-square-foot facility.

Tip: Extraction is strain-dependent.

“The cannabinoid composition of your flower will greatly impact the extraction process. Strains high in cannabidiol (CBD) will behave much differently than those rich in tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and will require method development to achieve the best yield. Interestingly, we have also observed differences when extracting a variety of THC-dominant strains. Bottom line: method optimization is key.”

Tip: Don’t skimp on cleaning and maintenance.

“Keeping your extractor in optimal working order begins with proper upkeep. As tempting as it may be to ignore the manufacturer’s recommendations for cleaning in between runs, you’ll avoid a lot of headaches later if you adhere to a consistent schedule. Proper cleaning will also help avoid any cross-contamination when switching between cannabis strains. For cleaning and maintenance tasks that are performed less frequently (changing filters, cleaning valves, etc.), I would suggest creating a maintenance calendar to ensure that these tasks are not forgotten. If your system requires parts that could be considered consumables (filters, seals, O-rings), I would recommend keeping several on hand, so you can change them out when needed and avoid downtime.”

11 Extraction Tips

Supplement – Extraction Essentials | Intro

Daria Ustiugova | iStockPhoto
Cannabis extracts are the industry’s fastest growing market segment according to New Frontier Data’s “U.S. Cannabis Report: 2018 Industry Outlook.” It is projected to continue to chip away at raw flower’s lead as the top-selling cannabis product. But similar to producing top-quality flower, producing extracts blends art and science—no easy feat for industry newcomers or veterans alike. For this reason, Cannabis Business Times reached out to two extractors to gather their tips on best practices, safety measures, and increasing quality and yield for two different extraction processes. LeafLine Labs’ Chief Scientific Officer Rachel Loeber shares her insights on how to properly operate and care for CO2 extraction systems; and Brad Robertson, co-founder of Guild Extracts, divulges his tips for butane extraction.

The Economics of Extraction

Supplement – Extraction Essentials: Tomorrow in Cannabis

Part II of this extract series examines the considerations business owners should keep in mind when building their extraction lab business plan.

Norwegian Wood shatter. Shatter is a form of “absolute” extract in cannabis.

Photo by Mel Frank
Cannabis Business Times’ May 2018 issue reported that vape cartridge sales in California reached $100 million for the combined months of November and December 2017. The next bestselling concentrate product during that time was wax, with $7.4 million in sales. The stated total of all concentrate revenue in California for that same period was $140.9 million.

Based on those figures, it’s clear that vape cartridges dominate sales. But why? The simple answer: user convenience.

With this data, some companies will successfully focus strictly on cartridge sales, but the cartridge industry is destined to become competitive and saturated. Everyone has, or will soon have, their own branded cartridge without a strategic advantage like a rare cultivar, proprietary device, or efficient and/or superior extraction methodologies and practices. I believe many companies will produce a vape cartridge that is no better nor cheaper than the rest, and these companies will suffer due to little or no brand recognition and will struggle to compete with products that possess strategic advantages (such as the ones mentioned). Therefore, extract companies need to find means to efficiently produce a diversified range of concentrates—and not rely strictly on vape cartridge sales.

Consumers will ultimately demand a wide range of products and offerings. Future consumers will be educated on cannabis’s nuances and characteristics. In turn, many will prefer to purchase superior- tasting, connoisseur-quality products over artificial or formulated flavors or poor-quality concentrates. If the superior offerings are affordable, that is all the better for the consumer.

In the first part of this special extracts series, we reviewed a wide range of concentrates concocted from different extraction processes. (See the sidebar to on p. 76 for the full list of products and methods discussed in Part I.) This is where production economics come into play. Extractors need to be mindful not only of a product’s strategic market advantages over another, but also the costs associated with extraction equipment as well as the cost of required basic materials (such as solvents) that can accumulate rapidly and increase production overhead.

Each extraction apparatus, whether CO2, ethanol, butane or a hand-press, requires labor of some sort. Some are more user-friendly than others. Typically, the more complex an extraction and refinement method is, the more training the technician will require. Therefore, a highly trained technician (or an employee with a Ph.D.) will require a higher wage than a person performing simple tasks, which ultimately impacts a business’s cost of production.

The concentrate’s final form is most often dictated by the primary extraction method or by the final super refinement. It all depends on what you want the final form to be and how much it costs to produce. CO2 extraction equipment is costly depending on the unit’s capabilities and requires a well-trained operator. Rosin, dry-sieve or water hash require more rudimentary equipment, and employees producing these products do not require extensive equipment training. Comparing the material and labor costs of COextraction to that of rosin presses reveals a stark dichotomy: CO2 extraction equipment can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, while commercial rosin presses might cost a few thousand. Odds are, the person operating the COequipment makes a higher wage than the rosin-manufacturing technician.

What follows is an abbreviated explanation of the idiosyncrasies and strategic advantages of each method and the associated requirements of each regarding ancillary costs. Again, the ability to produce a business plan around one method depends on the concentrate’s final form, the overall volume of material you intend to process, the combined equipment cost, labor costs, ancillary cost of each, and the associated legal requirements regarding laboratory requirements and licensing considerations.

Hydrocarbon Extraction

  • Forms produced: shatter, budder, wax, HTFSE, HCFSE, or crude extract for distillation, or terpenes to be added to distillate.
  • Apparatus cost: $5,000 to $100,000 depending on size and capabilities.
  • Technician skill/cost: educated in basic chemistry/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant laboratory; ability to store flammable fluids, liquid butane.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids, CBDA, THCA and all available terpenes. If required, material can be pre- or post-decarboxylated to produce a decarboxylated version of available cannabinoids at the expense of terpene content.
  • Note: If extracting hemp CBD only, technicians may not be required to obtain all the same licenses or permits as they would if extracting THC. (This is also true regarding CO2 extraction and other methods of extraction.)

CO2 Extraction

  • Forms produced: typically a crude extract that requires further refinement of one form or another, be it winterization or filtration. That said, equipment manufacturers have begun producing superior equipment that produces a more refined product. Some processors are producing shatter, budder and wax.
  • Apparatus cost: between $100,000 and millions of dollars, depending on size, capabilities or automation abilities.
  • Technician skill/cost: educated in basic chemistry/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant laboratory; ability to store liquid CO2 tanks.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids; resulting extract has very low amounts of monoterpenes.

Ethanol Alcohol

  • Forms produced: typically a crude extract that requires further refinement of one form or another, be it winterization or filtration. Similar to modern CO2 extraction equipment, manufacturers are now producing superior equipment that produces a more refined product that requires less labor to super-refine. But most extraction facilities further refine ethanol extracts through distillation after winterization and/or filtration.
  • Apparatus cost: between $5,000 and millions depending on size, capabilities or automation abilities.
  • Technical skill/cost: educated in basic chemistry/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant laboratory; ability to store ethanol alcohol.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids, resulting extract has low amounts of monoterpenes.

Distillation: Thin film, short film, wiped film

  • Forms produced: a super-refined oil rich in desired cannabinoids, be it THC, CBD or a multitude of others in composition. The resulting product can be left in oil form, meaning the THC (or other cannabinoids) can be crystallized.
  • Apparatus cost: between $5,000 and millions depending on size, capabilities or automation abilities.
  • Technician skill/cost: highly educated in chemistry/high.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant laboratory.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids; resulting extract has low amounts of monoterpenes.

LNZ (liquid Nitrogen)

  • Forms produced: sieved resin glands separated by size (crude form of extract that can be further processed or refined into almost any form).
  • Apparatus cost: $1,000 to millions depending on size and capabilities. As of now, there is no version of this apparatus for sale. Extraction facilities that utilize this method are currently manufacturing their own equipment to suit their requirements.
  • Technical skill/cost: basic understanding of chemistry and gravity/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant laboratory or ability to extract directly in growth environment (i.e., directly in greenhouse or in the field), lots of liquid nitrogen.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids and terpenes.

Rosin (heat and pressure press)

  • Forms produced: raw resin, typically stable and slightly hard when cool, ranging from a stable mass to viscous fluid depending on starting material and method, temperature, pressure and duration time of pressing.
  • Apparatus cost: $100 to $10,000+, depending on size and capacity capabilities.
  • Technician skill/cost: basic understanding of chemistry/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant facility.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids and terpenes.

Dry Sieve (specific sized resin glands)

  • Forms produced: raw resin, preferably of targeted size mature glands.
  • Apparatus cost: $100 to $10,000+.
  • Technician skill/cost: basic understanding of chemistry/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legal, licensed and compliant facility.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Note: This form of extract can be refined and manufactured into a multitude of extract forms.

H2O Extraction (water extraction) (specific-sized resin glands)

  • Forms produced: raw resin, preferably of targeted-size, mature glands.
  • Apparatus cost: hundreds to thousands of dollars.
  • Technician skill/cost: basic understanding of chemistry/moderate.
  • Ancillary requirements: legally licensed, compliant facility.
  • Compounds targeted: all available cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Note: This form of extract can be refined and manufactured into a multitude of extract forms. Water-extracted resin glands contain lower amounts of water-soluble terpenes because they are absorbed and lost in the waste water.

Most of these concentrate forms can be refined and manufactured into a multitude of consumer goods and products. The key to efficiency is to determine what final extract form you desire, then decide which method or apparatus suits your requirements, and how that equipment and the resulting ancillary requirements fit within your business plan.

I have seen many interesting things in my years of concentrate consulting. For example, one individual who insisted he could produce a better rosin press went to China, had some sort of press fabricated and shipped it to Oregon where it has sat unused for two years, never to press a speck of cannabis.

Another group called me rand stated that their intent was to take hydrocarbon extract and increase its value via further distillation, which I explained was unlikely unless they were extracting very poor-quality hydrocarbon extracts.

The point from these two misadventures is this: Don’t over-complicate your extraction process. Figure out exactly what concentrate form fits your business plan, then figure out exactly which method suits your needs and stick to it.

Kenneth Morrow is an author, consultant; owner of Trichome Technologies™. Facebook: TrichomeTechnologies Instagram: Trichome Technologies

Butane Extraction Tips

Supplement – Extraction Essentials

The Guild offers a wide range of products, but specializes in its house-made hydrocarbon extracts.

Photos courtesy of Guild extracts

TIP: A spray bottle of soapy water can help quickly identify and locate any leaks at joints or seals in a pressurized system.

“Making sure your system is free of leaks is important to ensure that no oxygen is in your system with your solvents and no gaseous solvents are with your oxygen in your workspace. Fire requires three elements to occur: oxygen, fuel and spark. Remove any of these elements, and fire cannot occur. Upon initial assembly, pressurize your entire system to 25 psi to 50 psi overnight to help ensure a leak-free system.”

TIP: Grind your plant material to about the consistency that you would roll in a joint.

“How you prepare your cannabis for extraction can greatly influence your end product. If the material is ground too finely, more of the cell walls of the plant material can be damaged—opening undesirables up to exposure to the solvent [and] extracting them [along] with your more desirable compounds; not finely enough, and you’re not making efficient use of space in your column.”

TIP: Pack (but don’t compact) your column.

“Be mindful when packing the column. Pack the column to the point that you feel resistance, but the plant material springs back. Pack it too tightly or too loosely, and you’ll get channeling. Channeling occurs when the solvent takes the path of least resistance around plant material that must come in contact with the solvent.”

Left: Crystallized THCA. Tetrahydrocannabinolic acid (THCA) is a non-psychoactive form of THC that converts into THC through decarboxylation (heating). Bottom: The Guild sells its house-made hydrocarbon extracts, including shatter (seen below), at its San Jose dispensary and partner businesses.

TIP: Run until the solvent appears colorless.

“When observing your solvent flow through the sight-glass, it should appear yellow as it first passes through the plant material. Once it’s grabbed everything good and deposited it into your collection pot, the solvent will appear colorless.”

TIP: Run cold.

“When extracting from cannabis, the colder, the better. Water and butane have relatively low co-solubility (around 61 mg/L at 20°C/68°F). Locking up moisture in the plant material by making it ice avoids the water mixing with your butane and acting as a solvent on less desirable, water-soluble compounds like chlorophyll—which can contaminate your final product. Running with an in-line desiccant dryer will also keep unwanted water from your gases, avoiding undesirables in your finished product and adding life to your expensive pumps.”

TIP: Consider nitrogen assist.

“Solvent flows through your closed-loop extraction system as a result of pressure differential. When running under cryogenic conditions, solvents can all condense to a liquid state. This creates equilibrium in the system and no pressure differential to move your solvent through your plant material. Nitrogen, however, stays in its gaseous form at temperatures as low as -200°C and can be used to create the needed pressure to get things moving. You’ll need to ‘burp’ it from your gas storage tanks when you’re finished.”


Extraction Glossary

Supplement – Extraction Essentials

Your quick reference on extraction terminology.

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Band Heater or Boiler: An apparatus that controls the temperature via electricity or through the application of warmed water/glycol mixtures, respectively.

Cannabinoid Distillation: This is often called fractional distillation, despite being a simple vacuum distillation technique intended to separate the cannabinoids from other components of refined cannabis oil. Cannabinoids are not efficiently separated from each other with this technique. This process diminishes the boiling points of the target components of the cannabis oil (i.e., cannabinoids) via the application of a vacuum and applies heat to vaporize them. That vapor is re-condensed in a different physical location and used in product formulation. Advanced techniques include wiped film and centrifugal distillation systems.

Chromatography: A process that is capable of isolating individual cannabinoids from a refined oil or distillate to 99-percent purity. There are many forms of chromatography including High-Performance Liquid Chromatography, Centrifugal Liquid Chromatography, Simulated Moving Bed Chromatography and Supercritical Chromatography. Each of these has individual strengths and weaknesses.

Clarification: The process where a winterized (de-waxed) mixture of cannabinoids/terpenes is further refined via the removal of chlorophyll and other pigments. This process usually incorporates activated carbon, activated earth clays, or amorphous silica. Closed-Loop System: An extraction system that is capable of reusing the solvent after the extraction and collection processes. Solvent used during the process is not lost during the process.Collection Vessel: A cylinder or a series of cylinders usually made of stainless steel where solutes concentrate after the extraction process.

Crystallization: The isolation of cannabinoid crystals via the production of a supersaturated solution, rudimentary liquid-liquid separation, temperature change and solvent removal. Most frequently conducted to produce THCA or CBD crystals because of their propensity to crystallize.

Decarboxylation: The process that converts THCA to its neutral form THC through the application of heat and agitation. This process is often performed under a neutral atmosphere to avoid degradation. The temperature of decarboxylation is 105°C.

Distillate: The product resulting from the vacuum distillation process. This oil is fully decarboxylated, very clear and highly concentrated with cannabinoids. No terpenes are left in the oil after the vacuum distillation process.Emulsion: A mixture of cannabis oil, water and an emulsifier. An emulsion is stable due to the interactions among the cannabis oil, water and the hydrophilic/lipophilic components of the emulsifier.

Extraction Vessel: A cylinder that is usually made of stainless steel where plant material is packed and where a solvent is injected to remove solutes from the parent material.

Extraction: The process that uses a solvent (i.e., CO2, ethanol, butane, etc.) to strip the parent plant material of the target compounds (i.e., cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.).

Full-Spectrum Oil: A product that undergoes minimal refinement—usually only winterization and clarification—that includes all of the major components of cannabis (i.e., terpenes, cannabinoids, fatty acids, flavonoids, etc.).

Isolate: A purified individual cannabinoid at 99-plus percent resulting from a chromatography process.

Nano Emulsion: An emulsion that contains micelles that measure within the nanometer range.

Pressure Regulator: An apparatus that controls the pressure of the solute in the extraction and collection vessels.

Recycler: A part of a closed-loop extraction system that conducts the solvent phase change and houses the recycled solvent prior to re-injection to the extraction vessel.

Refined Extract or Refined Oil: The product resulting from undertaking the winterization and clarification processes after the initial extraction. This is a cannabinoid-rich oil or sap that is usually yellow to red in color.

Separation: The second—or downstream—stage of the extraction process where the target compounds (i.e., cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.) are moved to a different physical location than the parent material. Some technologies have the ability to separate the compounds in multiple ways based on molecular weight (i.e. CO2).

Shatter: A refined extraction product that contains high concentrations of acid-form cannabinoids; it is crystalline and usually used for dabbing or vaporizing. It can also be consumed orally to obtain high dosages of acid-form cannabinoids.

Solute: A substance of interest in feed material (i.e., cannabis) that is to be removed from the feed material and isolated. In the cannabis industry, the cannabinoids, terpenes, flavonoids, etc., are the solutes of interest.

Solvent Recovery: The recovery of the winterizing and clarification solvent with the application of heat and vacuum. The most common techniques include rotary evaporation and falling-film evaporation.

Solvent: A substance with properties that promote the dissolution of solutes from the parent plant material. The most common examples in the cannabis industry are butane, carbon dioxide and ethanol.

Terpene Juice: A refined extract that contains large amounts of terpenes and a moderate concentration of cannabinoids. It is usually liquid or sap and commonly used for dabbing or vaporizing.

Vaporizing Oil: A product that can be derived from a full-spectrum oil or distillate formulation often used in a small vaporizing cartridge or larger vaporizer. Sometimes oil viscosity is manipulated with polyethylene glycol, propylene glycol, alpha bisabolol or medium chain triglycerides.

Wax or Crude Extract: The product first obtained from the extraction process. It contains all of the solutes extracted from the plant material (i.e., cannabinoids, waxes, terpenes, etc.). Mostly applies to products from carbon dioxide extraction.

Winterization: The process where crude extract is dissolved in ethanol at warmer temperatures (i.e., 40°C to 50°C) then cooled to between -20°C and -40°C to precipitate the fatty acids/waxes from the solution. Cannabinoids and terpenes are soluble in ethanol at the cool temperatures.

Mark June-Wells is principal owner of Sativum Consulting Group and a Ph.D. in botany/plant ecology (Rutgers University).


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