Ethanol is a widely available chemical, found in everything from rocket fuel to martinis. It is naturally produced during the fermentation process. It has functioned as a disinfectant since time immemorial. It’s also used with hemp.
Ethanol extraction removes desired compounds from hemp biomass. Commercial producers of hemp crude oil often prefer using chemicals like ethanol over mechanical means. This is because chemical extraction is more precise. It leads to a greater return on investment and allows for greater quality control.
Scalability requirements often dictate that manufacturers select one method of extraction over others. No matter which method gets used, the manufacturer needs to take safety and quality seriously to deliver a great final product.
As recently as May 2020, use of flammable chemicals to extract compounds from hemp has made headlines. When a fire broke out at a cannabis extraction plant, at least 11 firefighters suffered injuries. Several buildings were also damaged.
Selecting a well-trained, credentialed business is important, when it comes to working with flammable chemicals. This is not to say that use of hydrocarbons to create hemp crude extract is bad. It does say that safe and proper practices are essential. In short: Do. Not. Try. This. At. Home.
Of locks and keys
People often discuss the human usage of cannabinoids in terms of a lock and key. That same metaphor works here. Using solvents to extract compounds from raw materials is the same. It’s like trying to find the correct key (solvent) to get as much of the goodness of the raw materials (the lock) as possible. Sure, you can manipulate the pins to pick the lock if you have the right tools, and enough time, but it would be a lot better and quicker if you just had the correct key. That is why ethanol stands out in the crowd of potential compounds to use in extraction.
Carbon dioxide is – for cannabinoids – a weaker solvent that requires a longer cycle time. It can create crude hemp oil, but it is an imperfect “key” for the cannabinoid “lock.” The CO2 machines used to extract hemp crude oil are more expensive than the ethanol extraction machines. In part, this is because the intense pressures (often 5000 psi) used in carbon dioxide extraction. It requires a lot more heavy-duty parts, as well as a lot of serious math and engineering to keep the machines safe.
Ethanol is a member of the hydrocarbon family, but is slightly different from its peers. Besides ethanol, butane and propane are often used in extraction for the hemp industry. These chemicals do an excellent job of extracting cannabinoids and terpenes at a moderate scale. The products created are well-suited to the artisanal market. Propane and butane are also flammable. They need 50 – 150 psi of pressure in extraction machines. This means the equipment is only a little bit heavier than machines that use ethanol.
Benefits of ethanol extraction
Ethanol does not need any pressure to create hemp crude oil. The machinery does not require extreme engineering to keep workers safe. It’s also less flammable than the other hydrocarbons used in hemp extraction. As solvents go, ethanol is generally recognized as safe. As a water-soluble chemical, cleaning up a small ethanol spill is not too complicated.
Where ethanol shines
Ethanol shines as a solvent when it comes to making crude hemp oil in bulk, especially from lower quality hemp biomass. Even though this crude hemp oil contains chlorophyll, lipids, waxes and fats, ethanol is user-friendly . It is both efficient and cost-effective. Extraction easily refined crude hemp oil into distillate and other products.
The water-soluble issue
As a hydrocarbon, ethanol is a very good key for the cannabinoid lock. However, its water solubility presents problems when it comes to extracting molecules from hemp. It causes ethanol to bind to more than the cannabinoids and terpenes. It also binds to – and extracts – chlorophyll and other molecules in the hemp biomass. Running the machines at a very low temperature can mitigate this issue. This strategy is a great option and keeps ethanol in the running as a viable extraction agent for hemp.
Safe extraction services
For all your extraction needs, the best option is to work with a knowledgeable and reputable company. At Arbor Vita8, we pride ourselves on having top-of-the-line extraction equipment. Our attention to quality and safety make us an excellent partner. We look forward to working with you in extracting the valuable materials from your hemp biomass. Contact us today to learn more.