- CBD 101
CO2 Extraction – What Is It? And Why Is It Useful?
Unfortunately, there is no federal regulation of the CBD industry at present. The FDA is trying to outline its stance against adding the compound to food and drink. However, the agency is doing nothing productive in preventing the halt of low-grade products. States such as Florida are trying their hardest to regulate their market, but it can be difficult without the FDA’s support. Alas, the industry remains a mishmash of reputable brands and dodgy companies eager to make a quick buck.
There are ways to differentiate between a trustworthy brand and one to avoid. Third-party lab reports are always a help. Another way is to learn more about how the company extracts its CBD. If it uses a solvent such as butane, watch out! There is a chance of leftover solvent, and consumption is bad for your health.
CO2 extraction is widely regarded as the ‘gold standard.’ It uses carbon dioxide as a solvent and is a non-toxic substance that doesn’t leave behind residue. This form of extraction processes at high pressures above the ‘critical’ point. During this process, the solvent density increases dramatically. This method offers products free from residue and typically presents high-quality.
Supercritical fluid technology is nothing new. The food and pharmaceutical industries already use it. Finally, it has taken hold in the world of CBD and cannabis products. Let’s investigate the process further in this article.
What Is CO2 Extraction?
There is a simple explanation! It is a process that uses pressurized CO2 to remove the desired phytochemicals from a hemp or marijuana plant. The CBD oil extracted is clean with minimal impurities. During the process, you remove the cannabinoids, terpenes, and waxes from the plant. After, you receive a beautiful amber-colored oil that has many uses. Aside from tinctures, you can create concentrates such as shatter or budder. You can also infuse food and beverages with it.
Carbon dioxide is a ‘tunable solvent.’ This means it has properties precisely controlled by the user. As a result, it is very versatile for creating a variety of products since you can control the pressure and temperature. CO2 extraction is everywhere! Essential oil and coffee companies use CO2 to extract what is necessary. In the past, food, cosmetics, and beverage companies relied on unsafe and unhealthy extraction methods. They used solvents such as methylene chloride.
Sadly, the hemp and cannabis oil industries took a long time to catch up. Some brands still rely on solvents in the extraction and try to claim that it is perfectly healthy. They do this because it’s a cheap method and they can get away with it. CO2 extraction, on the other hand, is costly. Go online, and even basic equipment costs $20,000+. There are industrial scale models on offer for over $2 million.
What Is CO2 Supercritical Extraction?
There are three primary forms of extraction, although supercritical CO2 remains the most effective. In case you were wondering, subcritical and mid-critical are the other two options. Subcritical uses a low temperature and low pressure. The process takes longer and produces smaller yields. Proponents claim it does a better job than supercritical at retaining terpenes and cannabinoids. Mid-critical is a range between subcritical and supercritical.
Supercritical CO2 extraction utilizes high pressure and high temperature. CO2 acts like a gas at standard pressure and ‘regular’ temperatures. It is relatively easy to change the gas into a solid, better known as ‘dry ice.’ You can also turn CO2 from a gas into a liquid state. It requires the use of hi-tech equipment to increase pressure while keeping the temperature below -69 degrees Fahrenheit.
With carbon dioxide in a liquid state, the next step is to increase the pressure and temperature slowly. You do this until the fluid states get to a ‘supercritical’ point. At this crucial juncture, the CO2 has properties halfway between a gas and a liquid. The substance has the concentration of a liquid but also the ability to fill up a container like a gas. You typically use CO2’s supercritical state in the extraction of cannabinoids.
For the record, CO2 reaches this stage at a temperature of 87.8 degrees and above, and a pressure of 1,070 pounds per square inch and upwards.
How Does CO2 Supercritical Extraction Remove Cannabinoids from Plant Matter?
You can only perform supercritical CO2 extraction with the right equipment, which we highlight below. You also need an excellent understanding of chemistry. Again, it is easy to see why some brands try to avoid its use. Here’s a snapshot of the process:
- Step one involves taking carbon dioxide in its gaseous form and running it through a chamber. You need to expose it to specific conditions to turn it into a gas. CO2 can exist in liquid form at temperatures between -69.88 degrees and 87.8 degrees. However, it can only exist as a gas, liquid, and solid at the ‘triple point’ of -69.88 degrees and a pressure of 75.41 psi.
- The goal is to turn CO2 from a gas to a fluid form.
- Once it becomes fluid, carbon dioxide’s properties ensure it becomes supercritical when reheated and pressurized. In this state, CO2 has properties between a gas and a liquid.
- Next, run the fluid through a chamber that contains the plant matter.
- The fluid passes through and removes a significant amount of the plant’s active compounds. During this process, it dissolves the trichomes’ membranes.
- After extraction, the mixture reaches a collection vessel. At this stage, the supercritical carbon dioxide goes to a condenser. It is turned back into a liquid, which returns to the original storage tank.
- You can then repeat the process all over again.
- After the process finishes, you decrease the CO2’s pressure. Its molecules return to a gaseous state and evaporate into the ether. As a result, no residue remains.
Benefits of CO2 Extraction
First and foremost, CO2 is a naturally occurring compound; our bodies even produce it. At present, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is 415 ppm and rising. It is now the highest rate in 800,000 recorded years of human history. It is terrible news for the planet, but that’s a different story. Interestingly, the rate was 280 ppm during the Industrial Age, and 370 ppm in 2000.
Carbon dioxide is also one of the safest non-polar solvents. Even the FDA has labeled it as safe for industrial extractions. If only it would approve CO2 CBD oil. It is significantly more reliable and healthier than petroleum-based hydrocarbons like propane or butane.
There is no need ever to use a temperature of 88 degrees or above. The conditions that permit carbon dioxide to change from fluid to supercritical require a lower temperature. As a result, there is less risk of damaging the natural compounds in marijuana or hemp. You can also pull cannabinoids such as CBG, CBC, and CBN from the plant. These cannabinoids are typically used for wellebing purposes.
CBD extraction and THC extraction using CO2 aids in this process. CO2 removal doesn’t include the use of harmful chemicals. The result is a cleaner oil that is safer to ingest than products that use butane extraction. Extraction with carbon dioxide also retains more terpenes and offers a more flavorful product.
The process of supercritical CO2 extraction has also enabled us to understand individual compounds better. However, it is easier to focus on a single cannabinoid for study.
CO2 Extraction Equipment
While you don’t necessarily need to understand more about a CO2 extraction machine, it is fun to learn! Carbon dioxide is far from the cheapest solvent around, but its benefits are worth the extra cost. The overall size of CO2 extraction equipment depends on the batch size. In some cases, the samples are just 10 grams. At the other end of the scale, it is possible to use hundreds of kilograms.
Most modern systems are automated. As a result, you don’t have to remain on-site during the process. It takes longer to complete supercritical CO2 extraction than other methods. This is because of the consistent fluctuations in pressure and temperature. For instance, extracting compounds from 20 pounds of plant matter can take 4-6 hours. On the plus side, the yield is higher than with other methods. However, adjustment of the physical properties can cause variation in the quality and yield.
As well as the expense involved, CO2 extraction machinery takes up a lot of space. Suffice to say that you won’t perform the process from the comfort of your living room or basement. And, if you want to buy one of these machines, you need DEEP pockets!
On one end of the scale lies the CannabisSFE 1×1 liter system. It can process 1.5 pounds of material in an hour. The result is 47 grams of CBD or 122 grams of THC per hour. The brand has larger systems that cost a lot more. Its 3×60 liter system processes 150 pounds an hour. You get 4,767 grams of CBD or 12,258 grams of THC per hour. Get in touch with the company for a quote.
Apeks’ ‘the Force’ is ideal for major operations, but costs well over $400,000! It is worth the cash if you can sell enough products.
CO2 Extraction – Final Thoughts
When you use supercritical CO2 extraction, you have complete control over the procedure. The result is high-quality, hemp oil, and cannabis oil. You can recycle carbon dioxide, which means it is a more environmentally-friendly method than most others. Remember, CO2 is considered ‘safe’ for industrial extractions by the FDA. It acts as a cleaning agent, so mildew, mold, and microbial bacteria die during the extraction process.
If the cannabis oil extract has residue, it is evaporated because CO2 becomes a gas at room temperature. It is an appealing way to extract cannabinoids because there is a guarantee of no residual solvent present. This assumes that the company in question performs the process correctly. As you don’t expose the plant to extreme temperatures, it retains its cannabinoid and terpene profile.
Industries such as pharmacology, food, and cosmetology already use supercritical CO2 extraction. It is about time that the marijuana and hemp industries caught up. It helps obtain the cleanest cannabinoids, such as THC and CBD. When someone uses another extraction method, there is a danger of contamination with heavy metals and other harmful substances.
It is also important to remember that hemp can accumulate toxins from the soil. When you use supercritical CO2 extraction, it gets rid of any toxic materials that get into the plant matter. While the process is expensive, it is also efficient. Traditional methods of obtaining vegetable oils recover only 60-80% of total substance volume. The percentage increases to 95% when you use supercritical CO2 extraction. Ultimately, it is best for the consumer and vendor.