Updated: Dec 11, 2020
Whenever you speak to someone in the CANNABIS INDUSTRY ABOUT EXTRACTION it's inevitable that you are going to hear that one method of extraction is superior to all of the others.
If you make the mistake of asking, you will be educated in the ways of Universal Extraction Facts! You are going to be told that a certain method is hands down, 100% the "BEST" and all other methods are overpriced and sub-standard. If you listen, you will hear the same vernacular over and over, you will begin to notice the same catchy language used from supporters on all sides. You'll begin to find yourself inundated with an onslaught of trending words like "ROI in 30 days", "Zero-Winterization", "100% Efficient", "FDA Approved" or "99% Pure". The language being used to explain the power of a particular method, is almost engineered to be more effective than the equipment they are selling you on.
In truth, the only method that is important depends on what drives sales and appeals to your customer base [from a business standpoint] - so do your research, seek out unbiased opinions from trusted sources that have references, and for the love of God, DO NOT BELIEVE A SINGLE WORD the equipment manufacturer's salespeople are saying!
Looking back over the last two decades of cannabis culture, it used to be that depending on the area of cannabis you were directly involved, your choices [concerning extraction] were laid out for you by those who trail blazed the extraction industry for cannabis:
Recreational Cannabis belonged to team Butane,
Medical Cannabis to CO2, and
Industrial Cannabis [Hemp] to Ethanol.
Since I know there are some of those aficionados that are reading this blog post, let me state, that I do not belong to any particular team, I firmly believe that there is a perfect extraction method for every situation - I just happen to excel at CO2!
Here is what I do know:
One of the single greatest differentiating powers of supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) with carbon dioxide (CO2) is the tunable selectivity of the extraction workflow
But, CO2 extraction is not limited to SFE, Subcritical Liquid Extraction (SLE) can create an extraction method that is not only tuneable but selective and efficient. We have all heard of "liquid washes" when it comes to Ethanol, and Butane, well the same principle applies to Carbon Dioxide (CO2). CO2 can be as gentle as the extractor's talents allow - I have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly...from all sides!
SFE is AGGRESSIVE, it creates an extraction process that is SIMILAR TO ETHANOL, in which the CO2 acts as an aggressive solvent. When I say "aggressive" solvent, I am referring to the solvent's inability to differentiate between desired and non-desired compounds.
Why is an "aggressive" extraction method a poor choice for any lab? Simple, it adds a downstream focus on cleaning extracts, that could have been free of non-desired compounds in the first place, and "cleaning" requires additional skilled workers, SOPs, equipment, labor, and capital investment. No matter your argument, no matter your "team" when it comes to extraction, as a stakeholder/shareholder, I think we can all agree that the less time [expense] required to make a shelf-ready product the better.
FOUR FACTS/MYTHS ABOUT CO2 EXTRACTION [NOTICE, I DID NOT SAY SUPER-CRITICAL CO2 EXTRACTION]
I. CROSS-PURPOSED TECHNOLOGY vs. ADVANCEMENT IN AN EMERGING MARKETPLACE
In the early stages of cannabis, the technology used in CO2 equipment had not quite caught up to the price tags associated with it. No denying this. Compared to alcohol, CO2 abilities were limited in terms of variables, CO2 required a much more technical workforce, and the oils were very similar to ethanol and butane outputs (heavily contaminated and full of non-desired compounds) - now that I think of it, extraction as a whole was in its infancy. Technically, there are still manufacturers that are producing the exact units that they first introduced into the cannabis market decades ago, with little to no technological progress involved with the mechanical or digital applications of their extractors, but knowing their weaknesses are not their responsibility, its YOURS!
II. CO2 CAN BECOME A SELECTIVELY TUNABLE SOLVENT
CO2 can be tuned to be both Polar and Non-Polar. Why does this matter? Well, this shows that CO2 has the ability to selectively target molecules, and it takes a skilled extractor combined with detailed SOPs to clearly understand the power of the CO2 molecule when used to penetrate a plant's substrate. Now, this does not mean that you cannot teach an entry-level employee, on the contrary, I find this the best device in developing a dedicated team member, I am just stating that its important to have someone on your team that is more than just ego.
I always use the "Hammer" analogy, in that, you do not use a roofing hammer to install finishing trim, so why would you use CO2 in an aggressive manner if you can selectively target with the solvent?
III. CO2 CAN TARGET SO MUCH MORE THAN DELTA-9 THC & CBD
CO2 can target molecules and densities. I'll keep this point simple, CO2 is a Solvent with obsessive-compulsive disorder, meaning, if you set CO2 to the task, you will most definitely obtain the results you were promised with your purchase. Unfortunately, we live in a world where people [and organizations] that are new to an emerging market, desire instant gratification. CO2 is a scientific method, it takes into account both data and abilities. You cannot place an extractor with limited experience utilizing data and no understanding of the scientific method and expect results that will set you apart from the competition.
IV. A MOST SUCCESSFUL SCHEME [LEADING PEOPLE TO BELIEVE THAT IT CAN'T...]
CO2 is the best-kept secret in Cannabis. Yes, we have all (well most of us that is) heard about CO2 extraction, but most involved in cannabis truly believe that its a failed attempt at innovation. In truth, CO2, when theoretically accepted and practically applied can achieve results that no other extraction method can. Are you looking for high-potency? I've seen single-pass cannabinoid oils that surpass distillates. Are you looking for terpene profiles? I have seen terpenes so pure, and void of non-desired compounds, that you can read a newspaper through them (you all remember newspapers? They were those things we used to wrap our fish sandwiches in). Are you looking to pull waxes? Well maybe not all of us, but they [wax] do have their use if you are formulating a body balm or cream, so I say go for it! I have seen beautiful wax profiles that you can only pull with CO2!
Again, I firmly believe in all methods of extraction because it's not up to me to define what my customer's needs are. I believe in both free markets and technological advancement in order to drive progress in the cannabis industry.
Now let's look at CO2 From a business perspective
CO2 IS ATTRACTIVE outside of just sales. CO2 Extraction is only limited by your business' abilities to think outside of the box.
Think about a few of the items we just covered:
The "waste" does not require a HAZMAT, so you can sell your waste products as feed for livestock, or reintroduce the spent biomass into your cultivation.
You can extract clean wax profiles that are void of impurities for product development, or sell off to candle makers who want to jump on the CBD craze.
You can extract clean and crisp terpene profiles for product development or sales
You can decaffeinate coffee and use the caffeine in an energy drink or you can de-nicotize Tobacco products.
The only real hazard involved in the entire process it seems is that CO2 is an inert gas, which is a technical [fancy] way of saying, it's heavier than air and builds up from the ground up, so you have to be careful of asphyxiation [another fancy word for choking] - so you buy an alarm and vent (but then again, any good gas delivery will have them installed at little to no charge for their service).
I'm not saying go out and buy a CO2 extractor, they are expensive, and honestly, I don't need the competition. But, then again, let's look at what's considered expensive by today's standard. Upon purchasing an Ethanol extractor, you soon come to realize that you are required to buy additional ancillary equipment that is needed to both clean and remediate the oil. Not to mention you will need to recondition the ethanol due to the Hydroxyl (OH) molecule that absorbs water after each extraction batch, so you are looking at similar costs to CO2. Let's not even factor in the amortization of consumables over time, while CO2 per pound is pennies on the dollar compared to a gallon of alcohol that is upwards of $25+, but I look at things differently as a business owner.
I guess that CO2 isn't the underdog its made out to be by the non-believers, quite the opposite, it seems.
Looking at CO2 from outside the box, it seems to be the ideal piece of equipment for any laboratory setting. It's controllable, it's qualifiable for GMP applications, it has safeties in place that safeguard employees, they are engineered to have closed loops so you needn't worry about "open blasting" and CO2 seem to save on additional expenses required by all the other methods popular in Commercial extraction facilities that have to remediate oils and clean up their solvents for future use...CO2 for the win!
Oh, did I forget to mention that you can produce an oil with CO2 that has never been touched by harmful solvents, solvents that can alter the molecular structure of the cannabinoids, and limit the shelf stability of your products? I should have started out with that. But, again, I only know what my customers want!
- Aaron Furman, Founder of FS-Origins