Hydrocarbon Extraction Vs. CO2 Extraction

A Comparison of Two Popular Botanical Extraction Methods

Botanical concentrates are often derived via one of two extraction methods:

Hydrocarbon or Carbon Dioxide (CO2).

Hydrocarbon extraction employs a solvent such as butane or propane, or a mixture of both, to extract compounds from the raw plant materials, resulting in a product that retains many of the plant’s flavors and aromas. CO2 extraction features the same basic principle but with a final product with less natural characteristics.

Take what you need and leave the rest behind—though over-simplified, that about sums up the extraction process. 

Pulling concentrated compounds from raw plant materials involves an intricate approach, with extraction technicians and facility managers sorting through scientific data in search of the most efficient—and safest—advanced extraction techniques.

Two of the most popular extraction methods in labs worldwide utilize hydrocarbon or carbon dioxide (CO2) systems. 

Though similar in the mechanical and chemical processes that convert raw plant material into concentrated extracts, each approach has advantages and disadvantages.

This blog will explore the differences between hydrocarbon and CO2 extraction and uncover which one might be better for your business. 

What is the Extraction Process?

If you’re deeply immersed in this blog, chances are you know what we mean when we say “extraction process.” However, there’s no harm in absorbing a refresher on the basics. 

In this industry, extraction refers to selectively removing a compound from a solid or liquid source using a chemical solvent. 

The solvents used can vary, but the goal is always to separate the desired natural products from the source. Solvent-based extractions typically result in higher throughput and efficiency.

As for which solvents are used to extract the compounds, we mainly talk about Co2, ethanol, and light hydrocarbons such as butane and propane. For this article, we will focus on the methods involved with CO2 and butane/propane. 

Though both solvents are volatile and unsafe when misused, professional extractors strictly follow the proper precautions. 

Butane is flammable, and CO2 risks asphyxiation, as such extractors utilize closed-loop extraction systems. These systems create a safe, sealed process that locks the solvent inside the system and recycles it for future extractions.

What is Hydrocarbon Extraction?

Hydrocarbon extraction enlists butane or propane (or a combination of the two) to separate the chemical components from inert plant material. After it’s isolated, the resulting extract produces a wide range of concentrated botanical products.

As for how it works, the hydrocarbon extraction process uses a proprietary mixture to “wash” the trichomes away from the flower’s surface. 

The extracting solvent is then evaporated from the product, leaving only the targeted components behind. Equipment used for hydrocarbon extraction includes a metal tube and glass or ceramic vessels tightly packed with plant material. 

Hydrocarbon solvent is sprayed—or poured—through one end of the tube. The liquid that exits out the other end of the tube is the solvent, chock full of the plant’s active compounds. The hydrocarbon solvent is removed from the concentrate using a vacuum evaporator.

What is CO2 Extraction?

Carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction is used in an array of applications.

Also called Supercritical CO2 Extraction, it’s a method that utilizes the odorless, colorless, non-toxic, and non-flammable “supercritical” state of CO2.

This process sees CO2 gas converted into a liquid form; then, the pressurized solvent passes through the biomass to extract plant compounds.

Supercritical CO2 is unique in that it has both the properties of a gas and liquid, making it adept at dissolving active ingredients in plant material. 

Operators can manipulate the temperature and pressure settings during CO2 extraction, thus giving it the moniker “tunable process.” This approach allows extractors to target specific compounds and avoid chlorophyll and other undesirable remnants.

Hydrocarbon vs. CO2 Extraction: Which Makes a Better Product?

When it comes to hydrocarbon or CO2, to each their own.

The extraction method you choose can depend on various factors, such as the desired end product, your company’s budget, and even local laws.

In terms of which approach—hydrocarbon or CO2—makes a better product, that all depends on your perspective.

Generally speaking, CO2 extraction requires more post-processing requirements.

When you are finished with the CO2 extraction, there’s much more work to do before your product is ready for use in end products.

Hydrocarbon extraction produces more terpene-rich oils, with the natural flavors and aromas fully intact. CO2, on the other hand, results in a product that does not capture those characteristics which consumers highly desire.

And while hydrocarbon extraction is perfectly safe when the proper precautions are taken, CO2 extraction might be a tad more desirable in terms of overall safety. This is mainly because CO2 is produced via natural rather than chemical means.

Which is the Best Extraction Method for Your Business?

Choosing between hydrocarbon and CO2 extraction comes down to one fundamental question: Which process is best for your business?

The process that produces a concentrate that’s both desirable in the marketplace and most efficient in the extraction facility is what’s best for your business.

Because of the heavy post-processing of CO2, you won’t get the pure, potent product that consumers seek. And as we mentioned earlier, CO2 extraction does not capture the natural flavors and aromas like hydrocarbon extraction.

With CO2, extraction technicians may need to add flavors and aromas back into the product at the end of the process. This leads to a far less natural end product and a synthetic taste and smell.

In contrast, hydrocarbon extraction results in concentrates rich in all of the natural characteristics of the source plant material.

As a result, hydrocarbon extraction enables you to reap a more significant concentration of terpenes and other minor compounds, resulting in a full spectrum of botanical products.

What’s more, with fewer post-processing requirements, hydrocarbon-born extracts are as close to nature’s plant as you can get in a lab setting.

And in a marketplace flooded with pretenders, authenticity and strict adherence to the product as it’s found in nature is crucial to success.

Elevate the process. Get in touch with Highpoint today to learn more about our high-quality stainless and carbon steel tanks for hydrocarbon extraction.