Extraction Industry Blog

Is Ethanol Extraction Better Than CO2 Extraction?

Ethanol extraction

For those entering the cannabis extraction business, one of the first questions they ask is, “Should I use ethanol extraction or CO2 extraction?”  As with many things the answer depends on a few key factors such as cost, operator skill and product desired.  Although both processes use a “solvent” to extract oils from the biomass, the general mechanics of the two techniques are quite different. CO2 has to be pressurized to exist as a liquid or supercritical fluid while ethanol can be utilized at atmospheric pressure.

CO2 extraction of cannabis is a relatively new technique invented during WWII to extract oil from shale to support the German war effort. Following the war, beer masters applied it to extract from hops and is still the primary extraction technique for the beer industry. CO2 is an appealing extraction solvent to many because it is easy to obtain, scaleable and considered environmentally friendly. However, this extraction method takes more operator knowhow is more time intensive and is less efficient than the Ethanol extraction technique.

CO2 is not as efficient at extracting just the cannabinoids and terpenes – it also carries the chlorophyll and plant waxes with it into the crude. Winterization is necessary to remove the plant waxes and fats that were extracted along with the cannabinoids and terpenes. The unintended downside of winterization is that the process results in a loss of cannabinoids and terpenes from the final product.  Although many health and wellness stores highlight the benefits of CO2 extracted products, those products are actually less complete than those extracted using ethanol.

ENTEXS Mini 3 - extraction systems


Mini 3 Extraction System

ENTEXS Mini 9 - extraction systems


Mini 9 Extraction System

ENTEXS Mini 18 - extraction systems


Mini 18 Extraction System

Ethanol extraction has been used since before the prohibition of cannabis in the early 20th century. The technique requires lower costs to get started and is easy to operate – many home set ups use ethanol.  Further, it is the most versatile of extraction solvents.  The key to Ethanol is its polarity. This polarity is perfectly suited for capturing cannabinoids and terpenes while leaving plant fats and waxes behind. By reducing the ethanol temperature during extraction, the solvent removes the oils while freezing the water and fat-soluble plant compounds in place, so no winterization is necessary post-extraction.  This results in a higher quality full-spectrum product that most closely resembles the starting material cannabinoid profile.  The ability of closed-loop systems to recapture the ethanol makes it an environmentally friendly option as well as cost efficient technique. 

When developing the ENTEXS extraction technology, the team considered the pros and cons of ethanol extraction and CO2 extraction and determined that for the current state of the cannabis industry, ethanol extraction was the right technology. While CO2 is considered the better choice for bulk processing, few processors will reach the scale in which that investment makes financial sense.  Ethanol extraction is much more achievable for the majority of cannabis processors.

In addition, the ENTEXS extraction technology was developed to be modular so it could scale along with its customers’ needs.  This approach has proven to be valuable to processors just getting started who have big plans for the future.  But most importantly, ENTEXS wanted to develop a user-friendly system that had low start-up costs, low daily operating costs that would extract the highest quality final product at the highest yields possible. With a greater than 99% solvent recovery rate, and third-party tests that demonstrate quality, ENTEXS has delivered on its mission to be the Future of Extraction Technology.

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The ENTEXS team has years of experience in the design and implementation of automated ethanol extraction systems.

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