How to choose the right extraction equipment for your business

From legacy market processors catering to cannabis connoisseurs to mainstream brands and celebrities selling extract-based cosmetic and pet products, cannabis extraction has come a long way in recent years. Grandview Research pegged the global cannabis extract market size at $7.3 billion USD in 2019, $9.7 billion USD in 2020, and an expected $28.5 billion USD by 2027. With plenty of opportunity and competition, one of the biggest challenges is sorting out the best cannabis extraction system for your current needs and future goals.

There are five main extraction methods, each with its advantages and disadvantages. Each may provide unique end products, processing time, and CAPEX costs. It is important to keep in mind that there is no “best” extraction method, only what’s best for you, your goals, and your target market. And note that our most successful clients implement a combination of different methods for different purposes.

Table of Contents

What are the top 5 cannabis extraction methods and why?

1) Ethanol Extraction – Most scalable cannabis extraction process

Using ethyl alcohol in solvent extraction has been a staple for generations in both cannabis and other plants alike. By soaking and agitating the cannabis in ethanol, the THC, CBD or other cannabinoid resins are dissolved. Then the biomass is typically separated from the dissolved cannabis oil (miscella) using centrifugal force in an ethanol extraction centrifuge like Evolved’s CS-30. The miscella then undergoes colour remediation, then the ethanol is evaporated in a solvent recovery system. Falling film evaporators tend to be the most popular choice for solvent reclamation. This process leaves a concentrated cannabis oil residue that can be further processed into products like THC distillate or CBD isolate.

In the last decade or so, cold ethanol extraction, also known as cryogenic ethanol extraction, has become the preferred ethanol method for large-scale extraction, especially for extraction of CBD oil and derived products. Getting the ethanol to about -40C with a chiller and heat exchange system makes the solvent more selective and reduces the amounts of fats, waxes, lipids and chlorophyll pigment picked up by the extraction process. This results in fewer processing steps and ultimately higher ROI, by eliminating the need to winterize the oil.

What cannabis extraction equipment is best for ethanol extraction?

Evolved’s ethanol extraction equipment line is marketed under the EV-MASS brand. EV-MASS is a lineup of extraction modules that connect together in a closed-loop extraction system. We have a variety of configurations to meet the unique requirements of cannabis processors globally. Try our interactive EV-MASS Build Tool to see what configuration is right for you. If you’re looking to tackle specific bottlenecks or upgrade an existing extraction system, individual EV-MASS modules can be plugged into your operation for solvent evaporation, solvent chilling, colour remediation, filtration, centrifuge extraction & large-scale grinding or milling for biomass preparation.

What are the Pros and Cons of Ethanol Extraction?

Optimal extraction method for winterized crude oil, distillate, CBD isolate, vape carts, edibles, sprays, and pharmaceutical APIs.

Ethanol Extraction Advantages

  • High-volume throughput, cost-effective, easy to operate
  • Scalable capacity to meet increased market demand
  • Perfect for mass production to create a wide variety of end products
  • Great for CBD and hemp extraction
  • Easy to clean

Ethanol Extraction Challenges

  • Higher temperatures required for solvent recovery will degrade sensitive compounds such as terpenes, flavonoids, etc
  • Specific compliance and safety factors need consideration, such as working with and storing flammable ethanol. Class 1 Division 2 electrical and ventilation is the requirement in most jurisdictions.

Best ethanol extraction end-products:

Winterized Crude Oil

Distillate

CBD Isolate

Vape Carts

Edibles

Sprays

2) Hydrocarbon Extraction – Large-scale extraction of high-value, artisanal, high terpene, & full spectrum extracts

This solvent extraction method typically uses butane or propane (and blends of the two) to dissolve and separate the desired cannabis compounds. This method excels at terpene retention because minimal heat is required to evaporate the solvents. Extracts produced with this method are commonly referred to as Butane Honey Oil or Butane Hash Oil (BHO). Hydrocarbon extraction is one of the most efficient and scalable ways to make a full spectrum extract at scale, or as we like to call it “True Spectrum”. We prefer this term because it refers specifically to the terpene profiles that are very true to what was contained in the extracted cannabis that produced the concentrate.

Hydrocarbon extraction is also the most effective solvent extraction method for extracting Fresh-Frozen cannabis. The resulting extract is often referred to as Live Resin, renowned for having some of the highest terpene concentrations of any cannabis extract. The flavour profiles that can be produced using this method are also true to the profile of the plant when it was still growing, which makes for an exceptionally flavourful experience. While dried cannabis may lose up to 40% of its terpene content, freezing cannabis at the time of harvest essentially locks in these flavours so they can be collected in the extraction process rather than lost to the drying process.

What cannabis extraction equipment is best for Hydrocarbon extraction and making THC diamonds?

cannabis hydrocarbon extraction controlled crash

“Controlled Crash”

The Genome Hydrocarbon Extraction Platform’s “Controlled Crash” technology is a true game changer in the hydrocarbon extraction game. The tech allows the operator to crystallize THCa, separating it from the liquid terpenes in the extraction process. This gives cannabis companies complete control over end-product formulas, and eliminates the need for nearly all downstream refinement equipment and labour costs. Processors can produce THC diamonds and hundreds of other product formats in a fraction of the time.

The Genome Platform was designed with unlimited potential for iteration and innovation. Customized processes are made easy by the Genome Tool Kit, a hardware catalogue made with the extraction artist in mind.

The Genome’s simple architecture helps teams easily and affordably get extraction capacity online. A growing selection of add-on modules facilitates unrestricted growth, specialization, and innovation. Upgrades are always plug-and-play.

What are the Pros and Cons of Hydrocarbon Extraction?

An optimal extraction method for producing fresh frozen extractions, live resin, terp sauce, shatter, caviar, vape carts, THC diamonds, and liquid diamonds.

Hydrocarbon Extraction Advantages

  • Able to produce a wide range of high-value, ready-to-package extracts
  • Lower boiling point allows desirable secondary compounds like terpenes and flavonoids to be preserved, keeping the extract’s flavour profile very true to the source flower
  • Minimal post-extraction processing or refinement needed
  • Relatively quick processing times when compared to CO2 extraction
  • Easily isolate cannabinoids through crystallization processes, eliminating downstream equipment and labour, while preserving the flavours
  • Widely considered to be the most versatile extraction method available

Hydrocarbon Extraction Challenges

  • As with ethanol and other solvents, using butane and propane for extraction requires added safety considerations for building and fire code compliance as well as operator safety. Generally, a Class 1 Division 1 area classification for electrical, and LEL detection and ventilation systems are required
  • Although the method is relatively scalable, limitations may arise from Maximum Allowable Quantities (MAQ) for flammable solvent storage, per local fire regulations

Best hydrocarbon extraction end-products:

Live Resin

Terp Sauce

Shatter

Vape Carts

THC Diamonds

Liquid Diamonds

3) Carbon Dioxide (CO2) Extraction –  Initially, the most popular commercial option implemented

This method uses heat and pressure to turn liquid CO2 into a supercritical fluid. Once supercritical, the CO2 becomes a solvent that will dissolve a wide spectrum of compounds from the cannabis plant. The polarity of supercritical CO2 changes depending on the pressure and temperature of the extraction. This means that CO2 can extract THC and CBD resins at higher pressures very effectively. Still, the resulting extracts will also contain large amounts of fats and waxes, which must be removed in downstream refinement processes.

CO2 can extract terpenes quite well at low pressures and produces a high terpene extract. This method is only viable for dried cannabis and not fresh frozen because it uses temperatures above freezing that would melt the frozen buds, so yields are somewhat limited.

CO2 becomes supercritical at about 100 bar or roughly 1450 psig. Hence, the pressures are substantial, and a proper CO2 extraction machine will be designed to operate at pressures up to 350 bar or 5000 psig. This makes CO2 extraction the most expensive extraction method when comparing equipment cost to production rates because the high pressures require expensive components.

When considering purchasing a CO2 extraction machine, be sure you have budgeted for all the ancillary equipment, space and labour required to refine the crude extract into the product you want to make. The latest tech makes it possible to use a Co-solvent with CO2, such as Ethanol, to save some refinement steps after the extraction process. Likewise, in-line winterization systems for CO2 are also available. However, these expensive add-ons only double down on the high cost of CO2 machines. It is still much more cost-effective and more efficient to buy a system designed for cold ethanol extraction that does not require any winterization or much downstream processing in the first place.

Is CO2 Extraction Solventless?

We often hear that CO2 extraction is referred to as solventless. This is somewhat of a mischaracterization. CO2 becomes a solvent when heat and pressure reach a supercritical point. Folks referring to CO2 in this way likely intend to mean that CO2 is an inert gas widely accepted as safe and harmless as a residue in cannabis extracts or even beverages. However, this still ignores that the vast majority of extracted products processed with CO2 require alcohol in refinement processes to remove impurities after the extraction process.

What are the Pros and Cons of Co2 Extraction?

An optimal extraction method for producing high terpene extracts, winterized CO2 oil, distillate, vape carts, edibles, beverages, topicals, tinctures, and pharmaceutical APIs.

CO2 Extraction Advantages

  • Able to preserve valued secondary compounds like terpenes and flavonoids
  • No use of flammable or volatile solvents in the extraction process, often resulting in fewer facility regulations and fewer fire hazards

CO2 Extraction Challenges

  • While flammable solvents are not needed in the extraction process they are almost invariably used in refinement processes
  • Slower batch times, taking as long as 8 hours with minimal capacity relative to equipment cost
  • Equipment costs more than solvent-based extraction methods; because equipment needs to be built to a safety standard to use pressures of 5000 psig or more
  • In most cases, there is a need to add solvents and additional processing and refinement steps after the extraction, to create a variety of desired end products
  • These all add up to high labour costs and high equipment costs for refining the crude oil from a CO2 extraction

Best Carbon Dioxide (CO2) extraction end-products:

Vape Carts

Winterized CO2 Oil

Distillate

Edibles

4) Rosin Extraction – Versatile and low barriers to entry, difficult to scale

This solventless method uses high pressure and temperatures to physically push cannabis resin, called rosin, out of cannabis flower or hash. Considered by many to be the most artisanal method, it is usually reserved for small, high-end producers or as a safe at-home extraction method. It is also commonly used as a refinement method to purify water hash.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Rosin press method?

Optimal extraction method for producing flower rosin, hash rosin, live rosin.

Rosin Extraction Advantages

  • Great at retaining the essence and flavours of the source flower with no solvents involved at any point, which appeals to the “purest” market that prefers concentrates that are created without the use of solvents
  • Safest extraction method, operating without volatile or flammable solvents at any point in the process
  • Inexpensive to get started. Low barriers to entry

Rosin Extraction Challenges

  • Not suited to scale up efficiently 
  • labour intensive at any scale

Best rosin extraction end-products:

Flower Rosin

Hash Rosin

Live Rosin

5) Cold Water Hash or Bubble Hash method — High-quality, versatile, lower yields, sub-optimal scaling, variable returns

This solventless extraction method is performed by placing cannabis buds in a cold water reservoir, often with ice, where the chilled trichomes become brittle and get knocked off through agitation and then separated from the plant matter and collected on screens. Sifting is done via a series of screens, decreasing in porosity. The trichome heads and stalks are caught in the finest screens, while lower grade hash that contains more plant particles separates on the top and most porous screen. The method can be used on freshly harvested biomass or fresh frozen cannabis for the most flavourful concentrate experiences.

The resulting cannabis concentrate varies from 30% cannabinoids to roughly 65% in the most concentrated hash products. Because of the lower concentration compared to other methods, processors may consider further refinement. Rosin is a popular refinement method for producing products like hash rosin and live rosin. It is also possible to use hash as the input to downstream refinement processes at scale for the production of several end products like vape cartridges, THC diamonds and sauce, using our crystallization technology.

Note: Ice water hash is also known as ice hash, cold water hash or ice wax.

What is the best solventless water hash extraction equipment for cannabis?

HashTek extraction systems come in various configurations depending on our desired throughput capacity and budget. These systems are designed and manufactured in Canada, ensuring top quality and reliability.

What are the Pros and Cons of the Water or Bubble Hash method?

Optimal solventless extraction method for producing bubble hash, water hash, hash rosin, live rosin.

Cold Water Hash Extraction Advantages

  • Completely solventless process
  • Better preserved flavours, terpenes, cannabinoids, and everything a high-end connoisseur is looking for
  • Can be scaled up relatively easily to a commercial scale
  • Has a lower CAPEX cost as the equipment does not need to be rated for flammable/volatile solvents or extreme pressures
  • Can offer a premium product while keeping the costs low

Cold Water Hash Extraction Challenges

  • Limited end product variety and consumer base
  • Lower yields compared to solvent extraction
  • Does not produce linear and consistent yield and quality returns when scaled up
  • Quality of the extract is very dependent on the freshness and quality of the input biomass.
  • Not all cannabis varieties are viable for hash production — some batches won’t turn out as desired.

Best ice water hash extraction end-products:

Bubble Hash

Hash Rosin

Live Rosin

Conclusion

Now that we have reviewed the top 5 cannabis extraction methods we hope you have a better understanding that there is not one best method but rather different tools that can be used that best fit your business. The next step is understanding and determining the end product or products you want to produce initially and if there are plans to expand your product offering. It is also important to consider the market demand both currently and future projections. It is most efficient to build for today’s demand, with the flexibility of scaling production to meet future demands. This allows processors to minimize the amount of capital required, keeping them nimble for changes in market trends.

 

In Part Two of this guide, we will examine how to choose the right extraction method for your business and key questions to ask. If you are interested in us sending you this article or want more information on what was discussed in this article, please reach out to us. To ensure you get Part Two of this guide, sign up for our newsletter.

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