Hydrocarbon Extraction: Myths and Facts
Much of what we know about hydrocarbon cannabis extraction （this cannabis extraction machine from Careddi） may be wrong, or at worst - the product of a fear-based marketing campaign.
The last time we visited the topic of cannabis extraction methods, the idea was to compare the views of experts in different areas of the extraction business.
However, at the time, we could only speak with Andy Joseph from Apeks Supercritical. He provided thorough insight into the matter and we concluded that the extraction methods were complementary to each other.
However, we then spoke with Nick Tennant, founder of Precision Extraction Solutions, and a number of different perspectives emerged.
Although Mr. Tennant essentially agreed with Mr. Joseph, whom he knows and respects very well, he was able to offer a new perspective on the matter.
The basics of solvents: carbon dioxide, ethanol, hydrocarbons
"If you think of a solvent and a molecule, one side of what you're trying to extract is a lock and the other side is a key, and you're trying to find the perfect key to get into the lock," Tennant said.
Essentially, what we do with extraction is slide the key in and turn it until we open the door and isolate the desired molecule from the cannabis plant, he explained.
To understand which method is best for the particular chemical structure we are trying to obtain, we need to delve into solvent basics.
"Supercritical CO2 can dissolve the trichome structure of the plant, but it's a very weak solvent, which is why it has to be repeatedly passed through the plant material," Tennant notes.
In other words, we are constantly running devices with long cycle times through solvents that are not very soluble in cannabinoids.
Although CO2 technology has improved dramatically, it still uses a "screwdriver" when trying to "open" the door.
In contrast, hydrocarbons (specifically butane and propane) are "non-polar solvents with low boiling points, which ultimately lead to their binding to cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant."
"Ethanol, on the other hand, will also bind to these desired molecules, but will also extract unwanted molecules because it is an extremely polar solvent," Tennant explains.
In short, he concludes, we haven't found a "better key" than butane and propane in the last decade of extraction history.
Industrial gold standard or fear-based marketing?
So, how did CO2 reach the likable status of "industry gold standard"?
According to Nick Tennant, there are two main reasons. One is the general familiarity with CO2 extraction, and the other is fear-based marketing.
"This technology has been around for years. It has been used to make coffee, vanilla and a variety of artisanal products - just to name a few. About a decade ago, when the cannabis industry started getting bigger, people started looking for extracts and they repurposed it specifically for this plant," he briefed us on.
As for other supporting reasons for supporting CO₂ extraction technology, it's likely the construction of a well-targeted and fear-based marketing campaign.
"The perception that CO₂ is the 'safest' solvent and that it produces the 'purest' end product is largely based on misconceptions about hydrocarbons and ethanol spread by competitors in the field," Tennant makes clear, adding quickly that it is "a classic example of fear-based marketing.
Much of the strategy was based on two premises: that hydrocarbons leave harmful residues in the final product, and that the associated manufacturing operations are dangerous due to "highly flammable ingredients.
Tennant was categorically opposed to both.
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