The extraction process is a crucial step in ensuring the quality of a variety of cannabis-derived offerings, such as cannabis oils and hemp extract with CBD. The methods businesses choose can have a substantial impact not only on what they produce but also on the efficiency and sustainability of the process.
For high-quality hemp extracts with CBD, extraction should enrich CBD content and strip away undesirable impurities like waxes, lipids, and other plant materials. The goal is to create a product that is ready to consume with as many naturally enriched cannabinoids as possible. While every product will have its own requirements, safety and effectiveness should always be the two top priorities.
In Neptune’s large/high-capacity hemp extraction facilities in the U.S. and Canada, we have worked hard to develop state-of-the-art extraction processes that prioritize efficiency and quality every step of the way. What we discovered is that for many products — especially those that rely on hemp extract with CBD — both cold ethanol extraction and supercritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction offer significant advantages over the alternatives.
The Cold Ethanol Extraction Process
During the cold ethanol extraction process, our state-of-the-art cannabis extractors in Sherbrooke, Quebec, use advanced equipment combined with ethanol made from non-genetically modified source material. We keep the ethanol at extremely cold temperatures, which allows us to create extracts that minimize impurities while maximizing terpene and cannabinoid amounts.
We then take this extraction and run it through a multistep purification process. Winterization — which removes lipids and waxes — is typically the first step. As the ethanol we use is incredibly cold, the process tends to be much quicker than with warmer ethanol. We then remove the ethanol from the extract and collect it for reuse.
At this point, we have a full-spectrum extract that contains cannabinoids and other plant compounds thought to be beneficial, such as terpenes. However, this extract is dark and only about 60% CBD (at most). If we want further purified, golden, or honey-colored extract, we use molecular distillation to separate or concentrate the cannabinoids and terpenes.
Proper extraction and purification work hand-in-hand to create high-quality cannabis extracts. Performing this process again and again has shown us the advantages that cold ethanol extraction offers. Here are just a few:
- Speed. Cold ethanol extraction has allowed us to become a large volume cannabis extraction facility, multiplying our capacity by seven to contain the 200,000 kg of biomass that will be produced each year. This is because the process looks to be as much as five times quicker than traditional CO2 extraction.
- Energy consumption. As a sustainable cannabis extraction facility, we care about how our process affects the environment. Cold ethanol extraction has the potential to consume half the amount of energy as CO2 extraction, which saves money and helps the environment.
- Safety. Our Sherbrooke facility is one of the few Canadian cannabis extraction companies with Current Good Manufacturing Practices (cGMP), which means we take the safety of our process and products extremely seriously. Not only does ethanol effectively strip away contaminants, but it also has a low toxic risk. This makes it one of the safest ways to draw out flavors and aromas — as well as synergistic compounds that can be used for health and wellness.
The CO2 Extraction Process
The CO2 extraction method is quickly becoming as common as cold ethanol because of the lack of harsh solvents involved, the ease of removal, and the recyclability of materials. Before the extraction process begins, the CO2 needs to be in a subcritical or supercritical state so it can be used as a solvent. To do that, you need pressure up to 1,000 psi.
If you want to extract terpenes that might be lost at higher temperatures, this is the ideal method. That’s because the subcritical form of CO2 will be at a lower temperature and will, therefore, behave like both a liquid and gas. Supercritical CO2 is also ideal if you want to extract the cannabinoids, fats, and waxes from the plant quickly. In some cases, ethanol is added to the extracts to improve the filtration and handling of any sticky materials.
While every process has its strengths and weaknesses, the benefits of cold ethanol extraction and CO2 extraction — especially when it comes to high-quality hemp extracts with CBD — are apparent. We believe they offer the best ways to produce a variety of nutrient-rich, safe products, and we are proud to use these methods in our cutting-edge facilities in both the U.S. and Canada.