Extracted Series: CO2 Extraction Methods for Hemp and Cannabis

Founder of Eden Labs, Fritz Chess, started making small botanical extraction systems in 1994. There was nothing affordable on the market at the time, so Fritz created an entire industry of accessible machines for small companies and herbalists. Above all, Fritz wanted to offer simple to operate devices that were reliable and durable.

Today, Fritz and his Eden Labs team are still committed to quality, innovation, and continuous improvement. As a result, they continue growing after nearly 30 years in the market.

Here we sit with Eden Labs Founder Fritz Chess (FC) and CEO AC Braddock (AC) to discuss CO2 extraction and their plans as pioneers in the industry.

ACS Blog Image - Eden Lab's CEO AC Braddock

Why is Eden Labs Best Labs Known for CO2 Extraction?

(AC)We do multiple kinds of solvents, but we’re well known for CO2 because when I started at Eden Labs in 2009, we began focusing on the cleanest method to suit the medical cannabis market. That primarily meant supercritical CO2 as well as ethanol.

The great thing about CO2 in general is it’s very tunable because it’s a gas that becomes a liquid. In between those state changes, you can extract different types of compounds from the plant. For instance, you can extract terpenes separately, then pull out different cannabinoids in bulk.

What are Some Best Practices for CO2 Extraction?

(FC)There are two ways you can perform CO2 extraction.

The first is subcritical, which uses CO2 liquid at about 800-1,000 PSI and under 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Subcritical is a gentler way to extract. It takes longer, but it’s an excellent way to preserve terpenes.

Supercritical is the other method, which you can perform starting at 1100 PSI and over 87 degrees Fahrenheit. Over the years, we found 3,000 to 3,500 PSI combined with 150 to 170 degrees Fahrenheit to be the sweet spot for cannabinoid extraction.

We never go above that level because when you start to increase the pressure, say to 10,000 PSI, you get nothing more than tar. It would be useless. So instead, you want to be in an extreme non-polar state.

Regardless of the method you choose, the flower needs to have less than 10% moisture because water affects PH and polarity. If the flower is too moist, the machine will pull chlorophyll out instead of cannabinoids. You also want to grind the flower to a tea cut level (not too fine) before placing the material in the extractor vessel and sealing it.

From there, you’ll start pumping liquid CO2 and begin gently heating it as you pump it.

If you're looking to maximize terpene preservation, you'll do this at low pressure and a somewhat cool temperature. Terpenes come off quickly, so you can squirt them into a separator or use two separators.

Once the terpenes are out, you’ll switch to a higher temperature and pressure to extract the cannabinoids. When that’s done, you’ll pump CO2 back to storage and remove the material from the machine.

ACS Blog Image - Eden Lab's CO2 Extraction Machine Indoors

Is CO2 Extraction the Best Method for All Cannabis Products?

(AC)CO2 is one of the best methods to produce clean, medical-grade products because of its anti-bacterial qualities, which means the end-products have a longer shelf life and are free from bacteria. Even if the extraction machine had bacteria before putting the flower in it, the CO2 will clean it out and prevent cross-contamination. Advertisers in the natural products industry also use CO2 because they want to give people peace of mind that their product is pure. That’s a marketing benefit, and it’s also a reality.

On the other hand, when you work with hydrocarbons, you risk contamination because are some bacteria that feed on hydrocarbons. So, if you don’t remove the hydrocarbons from the extract and leave the solution in a jar on the counter at room temperature, the bacteria can multiply. We’ve seen that happen.

That’s why it’s so crucial for hydrocarbon processors to purge the solvents from the material thoroughly.

People like hydrocarbon extraction because they say it’s a rapid extraction method. But the purging process is very time-consuming and required if you want a clean product.

Processors who take this extra step to prevent contamination are doing the right thing, but those who cut corners put people at risk. That’s unfortunate because when you’re dealing with customers who are sick, it's essential to produce products thoughtfully.

At Eden Labs, we make extraction machines that we feel are the safest for the widest range of products possible for consumers and our clients. We believe that’s CO2, but ethanol is also an excellent method to create extracts. Using both CO2 and ethanol as separate create greater production efficiencies and a wider range of products.

Ethanol is safe and acts as a preservative. So customers can store it longer without worrying about degradation.

How Do You Decide Which Extraction Method to Use?

(AC)Companies should always start with the desired end-product and work backward. You always have to ask yourself, why am I using this method? What do I need to produce?  

A lot of time, companies pick an extraction method without considering solvent storage, solvent waste remediation, overhead, and the safest, most efficient way to create a wider range of products. Companies should always start with the end product and go backward to figure out the most efficient and cost-effective long-term solutions.

What Do You Think About Solvent-Less Extraction?

(AC)I am a big fan of solvent-less. Many of the solvent-less products are craft connoisseur products, which means they’re higher-grade, harder to make in bulk, and more expensive.

I love good solvent-less hash, but it’s not a product that can be scaled commercially. That said, there is definitely a place for it like any top shelf product.

How is CO2 Extraction Different From Hydrocarbon Extraction?

(AC)Hydrocarbon extraction is great for producing fast terpene-rich bulk oils. With CO2, on the other hand, you can pull off terpenes first, then increase the temperature and pressure to the supercritical phase to pull out various cannabinoids.

Is It Possible to Preserve Terpenes With Co2 Extraction?

(AC)Terpenes are volatile oils, which means they are extremely susceptible to vaporizing off before being captured.  CO2 does an excellent job capturing mono and well as sesquiterpenes and pulling them separately from the rest of the oil.  This fraction can then be added to the oil to match its genetic profile and to thin the bulk oil if needed.

We also have clients who run their systems for a shorter period of time to capture the terpenes as well as primary cannabinoids. We do not encourage our customers to use anything other than what is naturally in the plant when making end products.  We believe in the natural intelligence of fitting the plant's genetics with human genetics to treat the endocannabinoid system and preserve the entourage effect using native terpenes.

Not all CO2 systems are created equal and many prevent the operator from fully accessing the tunability with automation that prohibits various extraction parameters. Other CO2 systems simply do not function as advertised. We have worked very hard to grow this industry and it is disappointing to see new companies that are more interested in transactional sales than providing high-performance systems.

ACS Blog Image - Eden Lab's CO2 Extraction Solution

What are the Potential Dangers of CO2 Extraction?

(AC)With CO2, you’re working under high pressure, which comes with a slight risk if you’re not using the proper equipment or protocols. But all our equipment is third-party certified, uses 316 stainless steel, and has proper safety features such as numerous pressure relief valves in various parts of the system.

The only other issue would be if the room becomes full of CO2 and it replaces the oxygen. Theoretically, this could lead to suffocation. But CO2 sensors and alarms ensure that never happens.

Is It Safe to Ingest Cannabis With CO2 Solvents?

(AC)Yes. CO2 extractions are extremely safe.  For instance, our pharmaceutical company clients only ask for CO2 solutions.  People should worry about residual solvents, but those are not an issue with CO2. You are breathing in CO2 right now and you are exhaling it.  

Moreover, CO2 has a very low boiling point so is vaporizes out the extract easily without having to actively purge it, like other solvents.

How Do Your Products and Process Differ From the Industry Standard?

(AC)Compared to other suppliers, we have the most reliable systems on the market.  Proof of that is our high rate of return customers.

We are very customer service oriented. Plus, we stay ahead of the market and what’s coming next in terms of innovations and regulations.

Being ahead of the market is crucial especially in a market that is driven by the politics of prohibition.  We focus on the science of the plant and try to drive the rest of the market to do the same and that includes being politically involved. How legislators legalize is dependent on what they know.

The delta-8 controversy is a prime example. We could see that coming because we understand the chemistry of the plant and anticipated the market demand given the arbitrary restrictions placed on the plant and production by local and federal government.

I have lobbied in DC for years with NCIA (National Cannabis Industry Association) and watched as the stigma began to erode. I served as chair of the board until recently. I have also served on the board of Washington Trade Organization, The Cannabis Alliance and have lobbied lawmakers throughout the country.

Fritz and I understand we are part of building an industry from the ground up and how we build it is the most critical part. Where do we want the industry to go? Do we want it to be another business as usual?

No, we believe cannabis is revolutionary. Cannabis is changing our medical system. It’s replacing alcohol, opioids, anti-depressants, epilepsy drugs and a wide array of pharmaceutical drugs and hard street drugs.

For an increasing number of people, cannabis consumption is a conscious choice that safely improves their health and well-being.

ACS Blog Image - Eden Lab's CO2 Extraction Machine Outdoors

The Bottom Line

According to Fritz and AC, CO2 extraction is one of the cleanest methods for producing safe medical-grade cannabis products. Its antibacterial qualities prevent cross-contamination, and its tunable nature means you can extract terpenes separately from cannabinoids for custom creations.

But CO2 extraction is only as good as the equipment it came from, the operators who made it, and their commitment to quality. There are no shortcuts, no easy wins, and no way to produce safe, innovative products without investing the time to hone your craft and exceed market expectations.

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