Table of Contents:
- Introduction: What is Cannabis Oil Extraction?
- A Short History of Cannabis and Hemp Extraction
- What are Cannabinoids? (THC, CBD, CBN, CBG, THCV, etc.)
- Biomass: Starting with the Right Stuff
- Extraction Process Overview (Derivatives and their Processes)
- Strategic End Product Market Opportunities
- Common Extraction Methods and Technology
- Extraction Equipment and Systems
- The Practical Science Behind Extraction
- Types of Viable Business Models
- Top 10 Questions (and Answers) from the Experts
- Cannabis Extraction Glossary of Terms
- Industry Resources and Links
Cannabis and Hemp Oil Extraction Equipment Guide
In this chapter of The Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Extraction, you’ll find a broad overview of the most commonly utilized cannabis and industrial hemp extraction equipment and systems for extracting THC, CBD, and other precious cannabinoids.
Here you’ll discover a comprehensive guide of the most commonly used extraction machines and systems that are required for the major stages of the Cannabinoid Derivative Journey to produce the most popular cannabis and hemp end-products on the market today.
We’ll cover the main extraction machines and technologies that you’ll need for extraction, distillation, and the refinement of CBD, THC, CBN, CBG–and other popular cannabinoids and their derivative forms–as per the extraction methods that were outlined in Chapter 7: Cannabis and Hemp Extraction Methods.
*Note, if you have not yet decided on your extraction method, you may want to take a step back and reread Chapter 7: Cannabis and Hemp Extraction Methods.
- Critical Considerations for Choosing Extraction Equipment
- Solvent-Based Extraction and Refinement Equipment
- Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) Extraction
- CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction
- Co-Solvent Extraction Equipment (Ethanol and CO2)
- Hydrocarbons (Butane, Propane, Hexene, etc.)
- Vegetable Oils: Coconut, Olive Oil, etc.
- Non-Solvent Extraction Equipment
- Ice Water Extraction (Mechanical Separation)
- Cold Pressed Extraction
- Rosin Pressed Extraction
- Screens and/or Presses
- Extraction Equipment Safety, Certifications, and Standards
- Buying Extraction Equipment – Certifications to Look
- Extraction Lab Compliance and Solvent Storage and Safety
- Extraction Equipment – FAQs
Choosing Extraction Equipment: Critical Considerations
By the time you’re ready to purchase your cannabis or hemp oil extraction machines, you should have already answered several important questions. The most critical of which is: have you decided on what end-product/s you want to produce based on market research into what cannabis or hemp products will sell in today’s marketplace? Also, you should already have your Extraction Business Plan fully developed and ready to show your partners or investors.
If you have already read Chapter 10: Cannabis Extraction Business Plan Development you will have no doubt made some critical business decisions and, by now, you should know your:
- Market opportunity: having completed your market research you know that there is a gap in the market you can jump into.
- Desired end-product/s: What are you trying to produce? The products that you have made an educated guess that the market will find attractive.
- Audience: who is going to buy your products and how will they buy them? Either through a retail dispensary, online sales, or wholesale B2B.
- Legal Implications: Your state’s laws and regulations for the manufacturing of CBD or THC or both.
- Extraction Method/s: which extraction method is going to be the best to produce your desired end product/s?*
These five factors are the bare minimum you should know before committing to spending any money on extraction equipment.
To help you decide which extraction and refinement equipment you’ll need to purchase to produce your desired cannabinoid derivative end-product/s, let’s explore the most commonly used solvent-based and non-solvent-based cannabinoid extraction equipment and technologies.
*Note, there are of course various pieces of ancillary equipment that you may need for your extraction and refinement process. However, for brevity’s sake, we have opted to list out the larger pieces of technology that you’ll need to invest in for each extraction method.
Solvent-Based Extraction Equipment
In the contemporary cannabis and hemp industry, the use of solvents to extract cannabinoids has been popular for many years, if not decades. Solvents are popular for very good reasons; they’re…
- Relatively easy to scale making them ideal for startups with limited budgets but big ambitions,
- Efficient at producing most currently popular hemp and cannabis end-products, and,
- Relatively safe as long as you’re in compliance with local, state, and federal laws and guidelines.
The following list of solvent-based plant oil extraction equipment and systems is a summary of machines that are typically required for solvent-based cannabis and hemp cannabinoid extraction, distillation, and further refinement.
You may also need various other pieces of ancillary equipment, systems, and/or machines for your process, so please consult with an industry expert to make sure you have a complete extraction equipment shopping list.
What Equipment do I need for Ethanol Extraction?
As one of the most popular solvents, ethanol extraction is well known for being one of the safest methods for extracting cannabinoids from hemp, cannabis, and other plant materials. It’s also known for being the most scalable for your extraction business, making it ideal for startups and growing companies.
Ethanol extraction only requires a C1D2 operating space, so building out your extraction lab is relatively easy. Ethanol can also easily be recovered and reused for multiple cycles of extraction to make your extraction process more cost-effective and to increase your return on investment.
The biggest benefit of using ethanol as an extraction agent is that it’s incredibly versatile in what it can produce so it’s very adaptable to the ever-changing demands of the marketplace. It’s great at extracting a wide diversity of desired cannabis and hemp end-products. And, properly handled, it doesn’t leave any residual solvent in the final end-product, which is why it’s widely considered to be a ‘clean’ solvent.
Ethanol’s ability to produce a wide variety of cannabinoid derivatives makes it an ideal solvent for both small-scale cannabis ‘connoisseur’ processors (who may be targeting a wide array of full-spectrum cannabinoids and terpenes), and also for larger labs seeking to isolate specific cannabinoids such as CBD and THC at scale.
The ethanol extraction process typically flows something like the following (for our purposes here, a Cold Temperature Ethanol Extraction process flow):
- Chilling: Pre-chill ethanol solvent using the DC-40 Direct Chiller to as low as -40℃ to reduce the need for post-extraction steps.
- Extraction: Soak and agitate the biomass in chilled ethanol solvent to extract cannabinoid compounds via CUP Series closed-loop mechanical centrifugation.
- Filtration: Remove suspended particulates and adsorbents via Ethanol Extraction Filtration Skid
- Evaporation: Remove ethanol from crude oil using the Falling Film Evaporator (FFE).
- Decarboxylation: Heating raw ‘acidic’ versions of the cannabinoid molecules (like THCA, CBDA, and CBGA) to release the carboxyl molecule group (AKA “decarbing“) as CO2 and convert them to their more easily consumed versions (like THC, CBD, and CBG).
- Distillation: Separating out the purified THC, CBD, CBG, or other desirable molecules from the crude oil utilizing Rolled Film Distillation (RFD).
If you’re setting up an ethanol extraction lab, you’ll need the following machines installed in a C1D2 operating space (listed below in chronological order of the ethanol extraction and refinement process).
1. Chilling: Inline Chiller
Although ethanol extraction can be performed under room temperature, typically it is performed most efficiently by pre-chilling the alcohol solution to approximately -40°C in an inline chiller such as the DC-40 Direct Inline Chiller.
This first step of the cold ethanol extraction process is performed to increase the efficiency of the solvent’s ability to separate cannabinoids and other desirable compounds from the plant material thereby reducing the number of post-extraction processes. It is for this reason that cold temperature ethanol extraction is more commonly used in large-scale ethanol extraction labs than room temperature extraction.
How does it work?
To reduce the temperature of the ethanol for cold ethanol extraction, an industrial inline chiller (refrigeration system that uses low temperatures to process fluids) rapidly chills the ethanol solution.
When the ethanol solution is cooled down to the desired temperature, it’s then ready for the next stage of the process: to be added into an extraction system such as the CUP Series (Centrifuge Utility Platform) system (see next step) along with high quality cannabis or hemp biomass
Learn more about chilling ethanol in the Direct Inline Chiller.
2. Extraction: Centrifuge Utility Platform (CUP)
The next step is extraction; where the biomass is soaked and agitated in chilled ethanol solvent to extract cannabinoid compounds within a centrifuge. The CUP Series, otherwise known as the Centrifuge Utility Platform is our state of the art, industry-leading ethanol extraction equipment.
Currently operating in nearly every large-scale cannabis and industrial hemp extraction lab in North America, the recently patented (U.S. Patent #10814338) Centrifuge Utility Platform (CUP-15 and CUP-30 AKA “CUP Series”) works to target and extract compounds from a variety of plant materials including cannabinoid derivatives from hemp and cannabis.
How does it work?
It works similar in action to a top-loading clothes washing machine, the pre-chilled ethanol solution is added to the milled plant biomass to facilitate the initial extraction process. The ethanol soaks the biomass while the CUP agitates to extract cannabinoid compounds via a closed-loop centrifugal force.
Combining a closed-loop, alcohol extraction system with mechanical centrifugation ensuring a high-purity, consistent extraction. Depending on your desired end-product, you can target specific plant compounds through programmable sequences, effectively isolating your desired separation.
The CUP Series boasts 97% alcohol removal from biomass, while also streamlining production times and maximizing extraction yield.
The process is incredibly efficient and fast! The runtime for a CUP-15 extraction system is 15 minutes and for the CUP-30, 20 minutes! This allows operators to process up to 600 pounds of material in a standard eight-hour shift. With the touch of a button, the automated program menu runs the cycle to the user’s specifications.
The resulting output of the CUP extraction machine is a cannabinoid-rich ethanol solution typically known as “tincture” which then needs to be filtered to remove suspended particulates and then evaporated to remove the remaining ethanol.
Learn more about the CUP Series ethanol extraction system.
3. Filtration: Particulate Filter
While you’re using your ethanol solvent to extract precious cannabinoids it pays to optimize each part of the process to maximize efficiencies and increase profitability. The ability to squeeze your margins can make or break your extraction business.
Using a particulate filter will allow for the removal of suspended particulates and adsorbents from your ethanol solution. This means you’ll be able to reuse the same ethanol for multiple extractions. Cannabinoids can be extracted from multiple bags of biomass thereby reducing the cost of production.
How does it work?
To properly and effectively extract cannabinoids, most processors extract with cold ethanol which requires the chilling of large amounts of ethanol quickly to very cold temperatures (see step 1 above of the process using the DC-40 Direct Chiller).
One of the best ways to optimize this part of the extraction process is to saturate your ethanol solvent with as much cannabinoids as it can hold to minimize the amount of ethanol you need to evaporate later on. This saturation is achieved by extracting multiple bags of biomass in the CUP-15/30 with the same volume of ethanol.
This is the point in the process where the lenticular filtration skid comes into play. The skid filters the ethanol between extractions on the CUP-15/30 machine to allow the DC-40 to maintain solvent temperature so that the same solution can be used for up to 3 bags of biomass. The end-result is an ultra-saturated ethanol solution (crude oil) that is ready to go into the evaporator.
Learn more about the Filtration Skid.
4. Evaporation: Falling Film Evaporator (FFE)
After you have fully saturated your ethanol solvent with cannabinoids and terpenes it’s now ready to go into the evaporator for separation. This part of the process removes the ethanol solvent resulting in a crude hemp or cannabis oil.
Our innovative FFE Series Falling Film Evaporator is ideal for hemp or cannabis oil separation and ethanol alcohol recovery from your extracted biomass tincture. The FFE is a semi-continuous, very rugged, and reliable solvent recovery platform that system maintains a high evaporation rate, which significantly increases the throughput of crude oil production, eliminating the need for multiple large rotary evaporator systems.
How does it work?
During operation, the tincture is syphoned into a closed system at low pressure. A flowmeter regulates the rate at which the tincture is shotgun fed onto a heated evaporator column down which it flows in a laminar fashion. This thin film distribution of the tincture allows for very efficient exposure of the solvent to the heat from the column.
Gravity pulls the concentrated oil down the column and into a collection column below. As the solvent and some residual crude oil are turned to vapor, they travel along the vapor path to another shorter column and must travel against gravity toward the heat exchangers. Any residual moisture or crude oil that managed to make it through to the secondary column is separated there due to their having greater molecular weights than ethanol. The distilled ethanol is then re-condensed along the heat exchangers before being delivered back as a reproofed solvent.
Learn more about the Falling Film Evaporator.
5. Decarboxylation: Decarb Vessel
The process of decarboxylation is essential to produce nearly all refined cannabinoid derivatives and end-products. In order to move on to the next step in the process (molecular distillation or fractional distillation) we need to first decarboxylate the extracted cannabinoids while also removing as many of the lower-boiling point compounds as possible.
In fact, decarboxylation is the most important step in producing cannabis distillate extract of premium quality. While the quality of the biomass, the rigor of the extraction, and the sensitivity of the distillation are also crucial, the only chemistry in the entire cannabis purification process occurs in the decarboxylation reactor.
Decarbing crude oil is the simple process of adding heat to raw ‘acidic’ versions of the cannabinoid molecules (like THCA, CBDA, and CBGA) to release the carboxyl molecule group to convert them to their more easily consumed and more potent versions (like THC, CBD, and CBG).
What is not so simple is knowing which temperature threshold produces the highest quality derivative and is held within the extractor’s realm of expertise.
How does it work?
Decarbing on an industrial scale calls for starting with the correct vessel and our recommendation is a glass vessel. While a steel variant may prove to be sturdier, being able to view your crude oil as it releases CO2 is a vital metric; the more of the vessel visible during operation, the better.
A liquid jacketed reactor is ideal as it provides full visibility of the extract throughout the reaction, and also allows for unparalleled control of the heat level within the vessel. The capability to increase the temperature incrementally is most desirable.
Budget reactors will often come with a jacket heating mantle that will be temperamental, and often overshoot the heat it delivers to the chamber if not handled very carefully. This can be catastrophic as overheating cannabis oil can convert desired products or even carbonize it, complicating downstream processing.
Once the oil has been decarbed it is then ready for distillation and further refinement.
Read more about the decarboxylation process here.
6. Distillation: Rolled Film Short Path Distillation (RFD)
Welcome to the final stage of the process: distillation.
Here we separate out the purified THC, CBD, CBG, and other desirable compounds from the decarbed crude oil to produce highly sought-after distillate which goes on to be transformed into multiple end-products. From vape juice to tinctures to gel caps, it all starts out as distillate.
Our Rolled Film Short Path Distillation technology is engineered to refine targeted compounds from crude botanical extracts and deliver clear distillate at fast speeds. Featuring durable stainless-steel construction to enhance heat transfer capacity, the RFD-27 is a must-have for your ethanol extraction suite if you’re wanting to produce the highest quality and purity of Category A distillate.
Regarding the distillation of cannabis or hemp oils in a lab setting, a workflow involving multiple cuts to remove several fractions of terpenes from decarboxylated crude oil ensures the absolute deepest vacuum possible during the cannabinoid pass.
These terpenes must be removed as their highly volatile nature creates vapor pressure, which in turn increases the volume of gas that must be displaced by the pump to achieve a desirable distillation pressure for the desired oils.
After this step, preliminary fractions often referred to as the, “tails” will be distilled. This fraction is usually of lower quality and is separated from the main fraction known as the, “heart” fraction of the distillation which will yield the more pristinely colored and pure distillate.
The end portions of the distillation will also present with subpar quality oil that is separated and is also referred to as, “tails” fractions and used for products such as edibles or topicals as opposed to the highest quality distillates that are often used in vape cartridges.
How does it work?
Common to many labs, a traditional short path distillation array consists of a large boiling flask typically made of a Borosilicate glass. This material is resistant to the immense amount of heat it is meant to endure during a distillation.
Along the vapor path a condensing coil will be connected through which chilled water or an analogous fluid will be run for the purpose of condensing distillates.
One or more receiving flasks are situated just under the tip of the condensing surface for the collection of the purified fractions of the distillation.
Occasionally, multiple stages of condensers are used to isolate components that have boiling points that are far enough apart that the vapors from each can be selectively captured by the condenser chilled to condensing temperature of each substance, respectively. This technique is known as fractional distillation.
Read more about short path distillation here.
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction Equipment
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), alongside ethanol, is also one of the most popular solvents used to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from hemp and cannabis. The process of CO2 extraction uses pressurized carbon dioxide CO2 as a solvent to pull CBD, THC, terpenes, and other minor cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp.
One of the main benefits of CO2 is that it yields clean and pure cannabinoid derivatives. CO2 is considered to be a very safe method of extraction because as a solvent it is non-volatile and leaves no residual chemicals. In many other industries, it is used for plant oil extraction for purposes such as the decaffeination of coffee and the production of essential oils from a myriad of plants.
CO2 leaves zero trace behind unlike other solvents, such as hydrocarbons like propane and butane. This is critically important, particularly in medicinal products that may be used by people with compromised immune systems such as cancer victims. CO2 is a safe, highly versatile and efficient solvent.
Most well-known for its ability to extract fragile plant terpenes, CO2 is ideal for producing high-quality hemp and cannabis distillates that retain the original flavor profile of the plant strain. CO2 is perfect for end-products such as vape cartridges or other products where retaining the “full spectrum” original flavor of beneficial cannabis and/or hemp compounds is important.
How does CO2 extraction work?
The key to CO2 extraction is the manipulation of temperatures and pressures whereupon it acts like a solvent. It extracts cannabis and hemp concentrates under high pressure and extremely low temperatures to isolate, preserve, and maintain the purity of the extracted oil.
Ideally used by serious extractors, this method requires sophisticated CO2 extraction equipment and significantly more training than ethanol extraction, but when the extraction process is executed correctly the end-product is very pure, potent, and free of chlorophyll.
The extraction process begins by turning CO2 gas into a liquid. This is achieved by dropping the temperature below -69°F (-56.11°C) while simultaneously increasing pressure to over 75 pounds psi.
The next step involves raising the temperature and pressure past the point where the liquid becomes ‘supercritical’ so that the CO2 now has properties of gas and liquid simultaneously. And here’s where the ‘magic’ of CO2 extraction happens.
When the temperature and pressure of the CO2 are above 1083psi AND 88°F, the CO2 is considered supercritical (high pressure/high temperature). The supercritical phase has a unique combination of gas and liquid-like properties – it can effuse through solids like a gas (meaning it has low surface tension and can get deep into the nooks and crannies of the plant material to get access to the oils within), and dissolves materials like a liquid (important for extraction!). Supercritical CO2 is sometimes described as a “cloud” because it is cloudy and you can’t see through it.
Just like with ethanol extraction, the CO2 extraction process may include several ‘cuts’ to the solvent extracting different derivatives at different temperatures and pressures.
Skilled cannabinoid extractors will often do a “terpene run” first, pull the terpenes, and then continue running sub-critically (low pressure, low temperature) to harvest another extract. Finally, finishing off with a supercritical run (high pressure, high temperature).
By utilizing the CO2 this way, we’re getting everything out of the plant that we possibly can. Each extract can be used in different derivatives and end-products. For example, the terpene gleaned from the terpene run can go directly into vape pens and sublingual drops because the oils are light, fragrant, and pure.
The oils extracted supercritically, will contain more from the plant material, and will therefore require further post-processing steps to remove the waxes, fats, and lipids extracted along with the oil.
After CO2 extraction, the resulting cannabinoid-rich solution is passed through a separator to separate out and collect the desired compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.). The CO2 is then condensed, turned back into a liquid, and it’s then ready to be used again and again.
If you’re setting up a CO2 extraction lab, you’ll need a “closed loop” CO2 extracting machine and other ancillary equipment.
What equipment is needed for CO2 Extraction?
CO2 extraction is performed by a “closed-loop extractor” which is an extractor vessel that is completely sealed off from the outside atmosphere. This means that the CO2 solvent never comes in contact with the air. The CO2 solvent is looped through the closed loop system moving through the hemp or cannabis biomass repeatedly to extract as many cannabinoids and terpenes as possible.
All CO2 extraction equipment has three chambers within a “closed loop” system:
- The first chamber contains pressurized, liquid CO2 ;
- The second chamber contains hemp or cannabis biomass;
- The third chamber separates out the resulting extracted product.
Closed-loop CO2 extraction systems are chosen by industry professionals because they are more cost-effective, efficient, safer, and capable of producing higher quality end-products.
Pictured above is Apeks Supercritical’s mid-range CO2 system The Transformer®. Equipped with the Apeks Diaphragm Compressor Technology, this CO2 extraction machine allows for cold separation to preserve volatile oils ensuring high-quality extractions.
The energy-efficient, low maintenance Diaphragm Compressor gas pump increases processing efficiency — 20 to 50% faster extractions — while consuming just half the power!
This system is ideal for mid to high-volume production operations or areas where limited electrical power is available. Uses 230V single-phase power or 3-phase 230v, 208v, 460v.
Ultimately, the CO2 extraction equipment you’ll need will depend on the scale of your operation, your budget, facility size, and of course, your desired end-product/s. The good thing is–just like with ethanol–you can start small and build your lab organically.
Apeks’ introductory models can get you started and when you’re ready to scale up, we have Mid-range and High Production systems, capable of processing up to 100 pounds of material per day.
The full range of Apeks’ CO2 extraction equipment systems include:
- Introductory: The Bambino®
- Mid-Range: The Transformer®
- High Output: The Duplex®
- High Output: The Force®
- Hemp Processing Machine & Equipment: The Fleet®
Which products is CO2 extraction ideal for producing?
Due to its ability to extract “full spectrum” cannabinoid derivatives, CO2 is ideal for retaining the strain-specific, unique flavor and scent profiles making it ideal for producing full-spectrum cannabis distillates. CO2 is valued for its ability to preserve the unique but fragile terpenes that are so highly valued by cannabis connoisseurs and give each strain it’s character.
By tweaking the ratios of pressure, temperature, and solvent, various cannabinoid derivatives can be extracted by trained extractors. As a result, CO2-based derivatives have become the go-to in the cannabis and hemp market for everything from edibles to isolates. CO2 is incredibly customizable and adaptable to the changing needs of the marketplace and ideal for both small startups and large MSOs.
Learn more about CO2 Supercritical extraction.
Co-Solvent Extraction Equipment (Ethanol and CO2)
As the industry grows, cannabis and hemp extractors are experimenting with combining solvents to increase efficiencies and potency of the final end product. One of the latest innovations is the use of both ethanol and CO2 to dramatically reduce processing time. The new Co-Solvent Injection Module introduces ethanol into the CO2 stream as a “co-solvent” to ensure greater optimization of the plant material used.
Why add a co-solvent?
The main benefit of adding a co-solvent to your extraction process is simply ensuring that you glean the most cannabinoids from your biomass. In this case, the ethanol pulls out whatever cannabinoids are remaining after CO2 extraction—along with significantly reducing extraction cycle time and improving operational efficiencies.
The chart above shows the difference between Subcritical CO2 and Subcritical + co-Solvent. The main benefits of using a co-solvent are:
- The ability to Inject 0-5% ethanol into the CO2 stream during a run
- Reduce (300% faster) extraction time by 66% depending on parameters
- Selectable Injection time, start it after the terp run, or after initial crude run to squeeze out more
- Reduce labor hours and cost due to reduced cycle time
- Lower capital investments to achieve the same amount of desired output
How Does It Work?
The Co-Solvent Injection Module injects small amounts of ethanol into the CO2 stream to increase the amount of cannabinoids extracted. The injection of a 5% by volume stream of ethanol leads to up to 3x times faster extraction with roughly 2% greater overall yield.
Read more about the Co-Solvent Injection Module.
Hydrocarbon (Butane, Hexene, etc.) Extraction Equipment
If your desired end-product is a high-end connoisseur dabbable such as strain-specific derivatives like shatter and live resins (crumble, honeycomb, and budder) then hydrocarbon extraction is probably your weapon of choice. Hydrocarbons help to maintain the strain’s authentic flavor profile; the original flavor combination of the plant’s flavonoids, terpenes, and cannabinoids. These types of derivatives were once considered to be “high-end” and “niche” but are becoming increasingly popular with consumers of THC and CBD alike.
Typically, hydrocarbon extraction equipment is less expensive to purchase than CO2 and ethanol equipment making hydrocarbons ideal for startups and producers seeking ‘craft’ derivatives in smaller batches. And in skilled hands, hydrocarbons’ ability to extract derivatives from cannabis and hemp to a high degree of purity is exceptional; up to 90% concentration of plant cannabinoids.
Hydrocarbons are also incredibly versatile. Depending on the strain of the plant material and production method, a skilled extractor can tweak butane and propane levels to produce a wide variety of end-products.
How does hydrocarbon extraction work?
Hydrocarbon extraction utilizes butane as the primary solvent, although other hydrocarbons such as propane and hexane may sometimes be used depending on the desired cannabinoid derivative. Butane has a low boiling point of 30.2°F (-1°C) and is used as a liquified gas during extraction. The low temperature retains the integrity of temperature-sensitive terpenes and other delicate derivatives.
Propane is also used along with butane. Its boiling point is even lower at -43.6°F (-42°C). Often a blend of both hydrocarbons are used, because propane is good at extracting additional compounds from the plant such as terpenes and is less likely to leave residual hydrocarbons in the resulting solution.
What equipment is needed for hydrocarbon extraction?
Similar to CO2 extraction, hydrocarbon extraction is performed via a closed-loop extractor—a vessel that is completely sealed. The hydrocarbon solvent (propane, butane, or hexene) flows through the closed loop system and through hemp or cannabis biomass to extract as many cannabinoids and terpenes as possible.
NOTE: If you’re intending to use hydrocarbons as your extraction solvent of choice, make sure you do so in a compliant and legal space! Properly maintained and compliant hydrocarbon extraction equipment has a very low risk, however when using a flammable solvent like hydrocarbons, the entire processing laboratory should be in compliance.
The hydrocarbon extraction process typically starts out with the release of cold liquid butane from the solvent tank into a column containing the chosen biomass. This action dissolves the terpenes and cannabinoids (THC, CBD, and other minor cannabinoids) along with plant waxes and lipids into the solvent.
The concentrated cannabinoid solution or tincture is then collected in a vessel where the chosen hydrocarbon solvent is off-gassed off using heat and vacuum. This final gassing off or purging of the solvent may be performed in multiple ways depending on your end product.
For example, if you’re making shatter, the cannabinoid-rich concentrate is spread out thinly and then it is placed in a vacuum oven over 36-48 hours. But, if you’re producing wax or budder, the initial concentrate is whipped to release any remaining hydrocarbons.
The separated solvent is then collected to reuse in the next batch.
Which products is hydrocarbon extraction ideal for producing?
Hydrocarbon is ideal for producing dabbable cannabinoid derivatives such as budder, butane hash oil (BHO), crumble, honeycomb, shatter, resin, and wax. But hydrocarbon derivatives are not just limited to just dabbables they may also be used in topicals, edibles, vape cartridges, tinctures, capsules, and much more.
Vegetable Oil Extraction Equipment
Vegetable oil extraction is ideal for absolute beginners and home extractors who enjoy making their own cannabinoid derivative extracts without spending too much money on equipment.
We won’t dwell too much on this form of extraction because the equipment used is typically domestic tools you find around the house such as the oven, stove top, and pots and pans. And while home extraction is a good place for newbie extractors to experiment, it’s not typically used for producing cannabinoids at scale. Also, the resulting end-product is also not as potent as those derived from the more industrial extraction methods such as CO2, ethanol, or hydrocarbons.
The oils used for extraction are typically extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, and other edible oils. Similar to other solvents, manipulation of temperature is used to extract fat-soluble cannabinoids by gently heating cannabis flower directly in an edible oil.
This transforms the plant’s cannabinoids into more bioavailable versions, for example CBGa into CBG, CBDa into CBD, and THCa into THC. This process is known as decarboxylation, or decarbing.
Depending on the quality of your biomass the temperature recommended for stove top or oven decarboxylation is approximately 284°F/140°C for 30 minutes or 248°F/120°C for 60 minutes. Note, this is an approximate temperature because ultimately it will depend on your plant material and strain, and the quality of your oven.
The process works similar to other solvents: the decarboxylated cannabinoids bind to fatty molecules in the vegetable oil, resulting in extraction.
The remaining biomass or plant material is then filtered out, leaving the infused edible oil behind: a mix of the vegetable oil, terpenes, waxes, and cannabinoids, etc. The resulting end product is typically not further refined but used in edibles such as cookies, brownies, etc. It will have quite a strong “dank” cannabis taste and smell because it will also retain chlorophylls and waxes—typically compounds that are usually eliminated in cannabis and hemp processing at an industrial scale.
Non-Solvent Extraction Equipment
Water Hash Extraction Equipment (Mechanical Separation)
Technically speaking, a hash oil extractor machine does not actually utilize the chemical process of ‘extraction’ but separation. This is because it works by mechanically separating out the cannabinoid-rich trichomes from the biomass—rather than extracting as we would do with ethanol, for example.
Separation is performed by literally ‘breaking’ the trichomes off the plant material using a combination of water and/or ice and an agitational force. The trichomes then float off into the water, after which they are simply filtered out through the use of screening bags.
Our latest innovation with regards to water hash making is the Vortex Trichome Separator (VTS-50). This hash oil ‘extractor’ machine allows hash makers to wash the plant material as gently as needed by controlling the vortex speed. Flexibility of speed is one of the keys to minimizing plant material maceration and unwanted plant particulates in your end-product. The result is a maximum separation of resin heads from the plant surface with negligent to non-existent plant-particulate contamination.
The trichomes then remain in the water as suspended, undissolved solids. Once this water and trichome slurry mix is separated from the remaining biomass itself, it is filtered and separated out. The resulting trichomes are then crafted into hash “patties” and dried to produce a high-quality hash end-product.
Ice water-based cannabinoid derivatives like bubble hash are ideal for dabbing and are arguably considered to be some of the highest-quality forms of cannabis concentrates available.
Watch the operating of Delta Separations VTS-50 at our customer’s facility. You’ll see how water hash is made using a double-vortex countercurrent flow to gently remove trichomes.(4:07 minutes).
Cold Pressed Oil Extraction Equipment
Similar to cold pressed olive oil or, almost any other plant extract, when it comes to cold pressing cannabis or hemp oil the process is the same. The plant material is chilled, placed under great pressure, and literally squeezed to extract cannabinoid and terpene-rich oil out of the biomass pre-cooled cannabis or hemp plant matter (flowers, leaves, seeds, and/or stems).
A cold press machine typically has a basin or cylinder into which a large rotating screw mechanism is inserted. The extractor rotates the screw and the plant material is crushed forcing the oil to be extracted out of the trichomes of the biomass. The oil is then collected as it escapes out through tiny holes in the bottom of the basin.
Being solvent-free, the resulting cannabis or hemp oil is perceived by connoisseur segments of the cannabis market to be purer, more ‘natural’, and closer to the flavor of the original plant material. Ideal for those who love the “dank” taste and smell of cannabis.
Rosin / Live Rosin Pressed Extraction
Rosin and live rosin derivatives made by exposing cannabis or hemp plant material to heat and pressure to literally “squeeze” the terpenes and cannabinoids out from the trichomes of the flower.
Favored by connoisseurs, rosin’s popularity is due its perceived purity made without the use of solvents. The favored plant material used is either trichome-rich hemp or cannabis flower, dry sift (kief), or low quality hash. “Live rosin” is made the same way but from plant material that has been frozen immediately after harvest to retain the “live” plant compounds.
Similar in technique to the cold pressed extraction (see above) a rosin press adds the use of heat along with pressure to squeeze oil out of biomass. This small-scale extraction method is increasing in popularity because of its safety, fast learning curve, and low cost. Rosin pressed oil is in high demand from connoisseurs who prefer ‘pure’ and ‘natural’ derivatives with the least amount of processing.
Professional rosin extractors use a small hydraulic rosin press with a heat controller to manufacture larger quantities of rosin. Whichever method you choose, the basics of how a rosin press works are the same:
- Insert a cured, gently broken down “nug” directly between two pieces of parchment paper. (Or, if using dry sift kief or hash put the raw material into a rosin screen or mesh bag and then in between the parchment to reduce plant particulates.)
- Insert your ‘package’ into the rosin press and apply heat and press.
- Oil will be squeezed out of your biomass and dribble onto the parchment paper, the purpose of which to ‘catch’ your precious yield.
- Store your rosin extract for consumption, typically via glass dabbing pipe.
The quality of your chosen biomass and the temperature you use will play a big role in determining the yield and quality of your rosin extract.
Speaking generally, the temperature range for a taffy-like rosin product is between 300-335℉ / 149-168℃. If you’re seeking a more rigid end-product (e.g. shatter) you’ll want to aim for between 250-300℉ / 121-149℃.
Screens and Presses Extraction Equipment (Hash/Keif)
Kief is made from the most cannabinoid-rich, tiny bulbous formations of sticky resin glands at the end of trichomes of the cannabis plant. As the most natural, non-solvent cannabinoid extract its popularity is due to its purity, potency, and versatility of consumption.
Kief can be rolled in a joint, sprinkled onto a bowl of cannabis, pressed into hash, added to butter and included in edibles such as cookies, or used to make moon rocks, buds or “nugs” that are saturated in cannabis oil and then rolled in kief.
As one of the oldest cannabis extracts, the history of handmade hash and kief goes back for many millennia. In fact, screens that were used for hand extraction of kief have been found in archeological digs from 3,000 BCE. And even today, the equipment used for making kief is still almost exactly the same the method that was used thousands of years ago.
The equipment needed to make kief is very simple. Once you have dried and cured your biomass, you can use a grinder, screen, and/or dry sifter to handcraft kief. It’s a labor-intensive process but worth if it you’re seeking to create a craft small-batch product for your connoisseur audience.
And if you’re wanting to make kief on a larger scale, you can also use a professional ice water hash making machine such as the Vortex Trichome Separator (VTS-50).
You may also then press the resulting product into solid hash via the use of a hash press if so desired.
Extraction Equipment Safety, Certifications, and Standards
Buying Extraction Equipment – Certifications to Look For
Running a cannabis or industrial hemp extraction lab is not without its risks but these can be mitigated by ensuring that your lab and your extraction equipment is certified and compliant. By making sure that the equipment you purchase meets industry-wide standards and is certified by industry bodies you’re ensuring the safety of your facility and your staff. You also reduce business risk because you can expedite approval by your local AHJ (Authority Having Jurisdiction) to help get your lab up and running fast.
Here’s a short checklist of the certifications that your equipment should adhere to:
- ASME Certified
- C1D1 compliance (where applicable)
- CE Marked (or Pending) for European Economic Area (EEA)
- ISO 9001:2015 for manufacturing and assembly of extraction equipment
- Peer reviewed by trustworthy industry peers
- PSI Certified in all 50 states (Pressure Safety Inspectors)
- UL Certified to ANSI/CAN/UL/ULC 1389
- UL Listed Components
- US Patent or Patent Pending
Learn more about extraction equipment certifications and standards.
Extraction Lab Compliance and Solvent Storage and Safety
It cannot be underestimated that when you’re designing and building out your cannabis and/or hemp extraction systems lab you’ll need to invest in industry-experienced and qualified contractors who can equip your site with the best and most efficient HVAC, electrical, and plumbing infrastructure as possible. Having qualified industry-specific contractors work alongside you is an understated investment that will result in tangible rewards for your business.
When it comes to lab infrastructure, the two most important considerations are:
- Compliance: Ensuring your lab is built to be C1D2 / D1 compliant and that you understand and practice these accompanying regulations. Not only is it important that you and your staff remain safe but that you remain within compliance in your local jurisdictions—saving you money down the road by preventing costly re-builds.
- Solvent Safety: How much solvent (ethanol in our case) you can have in process at any given time, and how much you can store on-site at any time. Solvent storage is dictated by your local jurisdiction and its regulations and will have a determining factor on your realistic output.
This last point about solvent storage is a very important one because you may be able to, on paper, design a lab that can achieve the throughputs that you need. But your local regulations may not allow you to hold the necessary amount of ethanol on-site or in-process to achieve those throughputs.
Knowing these restrictions in advance of purchasing equipment can save you time, money, and regulatory hassles. Not only because laws and regulations change between countries, from state-to-state and from county-to-county, but also because building out your facility to be compliant can be one of the costliest steps in designing and building your lab beyond your initial equipment investment.
Learn more about designing and building a Large-Scale Cannabis Lab.