Pros & Cons Of Ethanol Extraction

Cannabis concentrates have grown in popularity over the years. According to Statista reports, the sale of cannabis concentrate for adult use in the US reached approximately $3 billion in 2021 and is likely to exceed $6.5 billion by 2025. 

However, regardless of the cannabis concentrate use, the entire production process begins with a solvent. The most commonly used organic solvents are Ethanol and hydrocarbons, and the two are not equal. 

Thus, this article aims to detail ethanol extraction to hydrocarbon extraction in midscale cannabis operations.

The Basis Of Cannabis Solvent Extraction

Cannabis solvent extraction involves soaking the plant material in Ethanol or a hydrocarbon to dissolve the cannabinoids and terpenes. Ethanol is considered a polar solvent because it has a hydroxyl group – OH attached to the carbon end. Thus, it binds to the water-soluble cannabis components. 

The downside to this aspect is; it yields a less pure and less potent concentrate that will need further processing. However, it proves useful in extracting full-spectrum cannabis concentrates because some water-soluble components may have health benefits. 

On the other hand, hydrocarbons are nonpolar, meaning they bind with fat-soluble cannabis components. As a result, the primary extract is more pure and potent than the case with ethanol extraction.

In the evolving cannabis industry, there is a rising demand for more pure products in crystalline form, popularly known as ‘the sauce’. You will need an initial higher purity of more than 80% to make crystalline cannabis extracts impossible with ethanol extraction. 

Because of the polar nature of Ethanol, the maximum purity level that you can achieve with the right temperature, equipment and extraction time is 60-70%. However, pure ethanol proves useful in extracting full-spectrum cannabis extracts that have a fair market share on their own.

Although it’s possible to produce crystalline cannabis extracts with ethanol extraction, you will need to purify the primary extract in multiple filtration stages that are labour intensive and costly. 

The post purification process involves separating the cannabis concentrate from unwanted waxes, fats and chlorophyll. It may involve multiple filtration stages, separation chromatography, and the use of other solvents, including dichloromethane, chloroform and diethyl ether.

Ethanol purification may be tedious and time-consuming, but it’s more useful in large scale cannabis extraction because it’s easier to store Ethanol for large scale use than hydrocarbons. 

In addition, it’s hard to get permits to store and use massive amounts of hydrocarbons for continuous feed operations. Thus, Ethanol is more efficient for large scale cannabis extraction than hydrocarbons.

Pros Of Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol extraction offers some advantages and is more prevalent in large scale cannabis extraction for the following reasons;

  • It’s easier to store Ethanol in large quantities for industrial use due to the leniency in the storage requirements. Thus, manufactures can  extract large quantities of cannabis at once
  • It is liquid at room temperature. Thus, it eliminates the need to use high pressure during cannabis extraction.
  • Ethanol extraction happens at lower temperatures, thus preserving natural cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Ethanol extraction is considered to be ‘generally safe’ by the FDA
  • The extraction is great for producing full-spectrum cannabis extracts
  • The extraction process eliminates the need for dewaxing or winterization

Cons Of Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol extraction has several downsides, including;

  • It is polar, making it more unspecific. Thus, it can extract more water-soluble plant components, including waxes, fats and chlorophyll
  • It has a higher boiling point than hydrocarbons. Thus, the recovery process is much slower and difficult with this extraction method
  • The extraction method has lower purity levels than hydrocarbon extraction methods. Thus, it’s difficult to achieve the more pure crystalline cannabis concentrate
  • Ethanol post-processing is expensive, labour intensive, and involves several processing steps

The Bottom Line

Solvent extraction forms the basis of cannabis extraction, with Ethanol and hydrocarbons being the most popular solvents to use. Although hydrocarbons produce more pure extracts, they are challenging to use and store in large scale cannabis extraction. 

On the other hand, Ethanol requires an extra purification process, but it’s easier to store and use for large scale production. In addition to being safe, ethanol extraction preserves natural terpenes and cannabinoids, resulting in a full spectrum concentrate that requires no dewaxing or winterization. 

Thus, it’s the most effective method for large-scale cannabis extraction.

Writer’s bio: At CBD is our passion! We didn’t get into this because it was popular, trendy, or an easy buck. We got into this to educate and help. 

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