What Makes a Good Extraction Machine

A simple primer for the non-technician.

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The popularity of products created by cannabis extract has exploded over the past 18 months. And experts expect this growth to increase during 2021. This is terrific news for companies manufacturing these products, businesses making extraction machinery, cannabis retailers, and of course, consumers. But for those tasked with producing all the extract required to create edibles, tinctures, concentrates, and other products, the effort to meet this increased demand brings a fair amount of anxiety.

Many companies will increase capacity by purchasing expensive additional extraction machinery. Due to recent innovations in equipment and methodology, extract manufacturers are increasingly turning to supercritical CO₂ extraction. But a lack of technical expertise and limited knowledge of CO₂ can inhibit a company's ability to select the right system to use this powerful solvent to its best advantage. 

It is a scenario that some extraction machine sellers leverage by making unfounded claims, relying on misinformation, and employing questionable high-pressure tactics to secure sales. But as the old maxim dictates: Knowledge is power. So here's a quick rundown of the essential capabilities any high-quality supercritical CO₂ extraction machine must have and why these capabilities are so critical:

Related: Why I Am All In on CO₂ Extraction

Technical versatility

 Supercritical CO₂ extraction has been used for many years by various industries: essential oils like lavender and frankincense, coffee, perfumes, and even beer. Today, it is one of the leading technologies for industrial cannabis oil production. There is one primary reason: Supercritical CO₂ extraction provides results unattainable by other solvents, creating a consistent, potent product through a process that is by far the cleanest for the consumer and safest for the producer and environment while keeping long-term operational costs low. 

Supercritical CO₂ extraction enables skilled operators to develop innovative methodologies which maximize extraction efficiency, boost throughput and expand product options. But machines lacking the temperature and pressure ranges or the system stability needed to leverage the unique qualities of CO₂ miss an opportunity to deliver operators competitive advantages. A high-quality, instrumentation-grade extraction machine will provide features like density feedback and control, inline fractionation, and software scripting and sequencing that enhance productivity and deliver robust R&D capacity that is key for new product development. The best machines even bring major downstream refinement processes onboard during extraction to exponentially increase production efficiency.

Reliability

Nothing kills cost-effectiveness and ROI like downtime and repairs. It is way too familiar in the extraction industry for machines to break down due to things like pump failure. Many leading manufacturers have not invested in the engineering to design their pumps and instead use third-party, off-the-shelf solutions that work great for other industries but are not ideal for pumping liquid CO₂. Inadequate pump performance also directly affects extraction efficiency, which, again, hurts ROI.

Control over critical variables

Its finely controlled operation defines a true scientific instrument. When it comes to supercritical CO₂ as an extraction solvent, any capable system must provide precise and independent control over pressure, flow rate, and temperature to target the specific compounds desired. Because this targeting, or "tunability," is the core benefit of using CO₂ extraction in the first place, control over these variables is a bare minimum requirement for positive product outcomes. A machine that does not provide this level of control through automation that guarantees repeatable conditions for every batch extracted dramatically reduces the chance of business success for any CO₂ extraction lab.

Precise and stable extraction

A quality CO₂ extraction machine will monitor and manage ongoing conditions throughout a run to sense conditions and make second-by-second adjustments necessary to ensure a quality outcome. When conditions fluctuate, or a human must babysit the extraction, accuracy, and consistency of performance diminish. Ultimately business profit margins suffer. Extraction machines that do not provide this precision and stability when running a batch — and many of the leading brands do not — make it impossible to understand exactly what's happening during extraction. The lack of precision eliminates the ability to repeat successful extractions, avoid failed extractions, and prevent compounds' loss. There is virtually no way to create effective standard operating procedures or properly plan the business.

Simplicity

A great CO₂ extraction machine is useless if no one understands how to use it to its fullest capacity. As more businesses decide to switch to supercritical CO₂ extraction, operators' expertise becomes a key concern. Smaller operations may not possess the technical savvy to develop high-performing methodologies with an advanced system effectively, and many machines sadly aren't designed with simplicity in mind. The best, most desirable machines will allow technicians to manipulate variables while also being simple enough to be operated by mechanically-curious personnel interested in learning how to produce consistent, high-quality oils. 

As expected with any technology, there is no "one-size-fits-all" answer to what makes a great supercritical CO₂ extraction machine. And that is what makes the criteria mentioned above even more important. The reliable machine allows the most versatility and enables the most precise control to adapt as the market evolves--and can ultimately help grow the business. The right machine becomes a key strategic advantage in the fast-changing and rapidly expanding market for cannabis-infused products.

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