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In this chapter of The Ultimate Guide to Cannabis Extraction, you’ll find a broad overview of the most commonly utilized cannabis and industrial hemp extraction equipment and systems for extracting THC, CBD, and other precious cannabinoids.
Here you’ll discover a comprehensive guide of the most commonly used extraction machines and systems that are required for the major stages of the Cannabinoid Derivative Journey to produce the most popular cannabis and hemp end-products on the market today.
We’ll cover the main extraction machines and technologies that you’ll need for extraction, distillation, and the refinement of CBD, THC, CBN, CBG–and other popular cannabinoids and their derivative forms–as per the extraction methods that were outlined in Chapter 7: Cannabis and Hemp Extraction Methods.
*Note, if you have not yet decided on your extraction method, you may want to take a step back and reread Chapter 7: Cannabis and Hemp Extraction Methods.
- Ethanol (Alcohol, a.k.a. Ethyl Alcohol) Extraction
- CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction
- Co-Solvent Extraction Equipment (Ethanol and CO2)
- Hydrocarbons (Butane, Propane, Hexene, etc.)
- Vegetable Oils: Coconut, Olive Oil, etc.
- Ice Water Extraction (Mechanical Separation)
- Cold Pressed Extraction
- Rosin Pressed Extraction
- Screens and/or Presses
- Buying Extraction Equipment – Certifications to Look
- Extraction Lab Compliance and Solvent Storage and Safety
Choosing Extraction Equipment: Critical Considerations
By the time you’re ready to purchase your cannabis or hemp oil extraction machines, you should have already answered several important questions. The most critical of which is: have you decided on what end-product/s you want to produce based on market research into what cannabis or hemp products will sell in today’s marketplace? Also, you should already have your Extraction Business Plan fully developed and ready to show your partners or investors.
If you have already read Chapter 10: Cannabis Extraction Business Plan Development you will have no doubt made some critical business decisions and, by now, you should know your:
- Market opportunity: having completed your market research you know that there is a gap in the market you can jump into.
- Desired end-product/s: What are you trying to produce? The products that you have made an educated guess that the market will find attractive.
- Audience: who is going to buy your products and how will they buy them? Either through a retail dispensary, online sales, or wholesale B2B.
- Legal Implications: Your state’s laws and regulations for the manufacturing of CBD or THC or both.
- Extraction Method/s: which extraction method is going to be the best to produce your desired end product/s?*
These five factors are the bare minimum you should know before committing to spending any money on extraction equipment.
To help you decide which extraction and refinement equipment you’ll need to purchase to produce your desired cannabinoid derivative end-product/s, let’s explore the most commonly used solvent-based and non-solvent-based cannabinoid extraction equipment and technologies.
*Note, there are of course various pieces of ancillary equipment that you may need for your extraction and refinement process. However, for brevity’s sake, we have opted to list out the larger pieces of technology that you’ll need to invest in for each extraction method.
Solvent-Based Extraction Equipment
In the contemporary cannabis and hemp industry, the use of solvents to extract cannabinoids has been popular for many years, if not decades. Solvents are popular for very good reasons; they’re…
- Relatively easy to scale making them ideal for startups with limited budgets but big ambitions,
- Efficient at producing most currently popular hemp and cannabis end-products, and,
- Relatively safe as long as you’re in compliance with local, state, and federal laws and guidelines.
The following list of solvent-based plant oil extraction equipment and systems is a summary of machines that are typically required for solvent-based cannabis and hemp cannabinoid extraction, distillation, and further refinement.
You may also need various other pieces of ancillary equipment, systems, and/or machines for your process, so please consult with an industry expert to make sure you have a complete extraction equipment shopping list.
What Equipment do I need for Ethanol Extraction?
As one of the most popular solvents, ethanol extraction is well known for being one of the safest methods for extracting cannabinoids from hemp, cannabis, and other plant materials. It’s also known for being the most scalable for your extraction business, making it ideal for startups and growing companies.
Ethanol extraction only requires a C1D2 operating space, so building out your extraction lab is relatively easy. Ethanol can also easily be recovered and reused for multiple cycles of extraction to make your extraction process more cost-effective and to increase your return on investment.
The biggest benefit of using ethanol as an extraction agent is that it’s incredibly versatile in what it can produce so it’s very adaptable to the ever-changing demands of the marketplace. It’s great at extracting a wide diversity of desired cannabis and hemp end-products. And, properly handled, it doesn’t leave any residual solvent in the final end-product, which is why it’s widely considered to be a ‘clean’ solvent.
Ethanol’s ability to produce a wide variety of cannabinoid derivatives makes it an ideal solvent for both small-scale cannabis ‘connoisseur’ processors (who may be targeting a wide array of full-spectrum cannabinoids and terpenes), and also for larger labs seeking to isolate specific cannabinoids such as CBD and THC at scale.
The ethanol extraction process typically flows something like the following (for our purposes here, a Cold Temperature Ethanol Extraction process flow):
- Chilling: Pre-chill ethanol solvent using the DC-40 Direct Chiller to as low as -40℃ to reduce the need for post-extraction steps.
- Extraction: Soak and agitate the biomass in chilled ethanol solvent to extract cannabinoid compounds via CUP Series closed-loop mechanical centrifugation.
- Filtration: Remove suspended particulates and adsorbents via Ethanol Extraction Filtration Skid
- Evaporation: Remove ethanol from crude oil using the Falling Film Evaporator (FFE).
- Decarboxylation: Heating raw ‘acidic’ versions of the cannabinoid molecules (like THCA, CBDA, and CBGA) to release the carboxyl molecule group (AKA “decarbing“) as CO2 and convert them to their more easily consumed versions (like THC, CBD, and CBG).
- Distillation: Separating out the purified THC, CBD, CBG, or other desirable molecules from the crude oil utilizing Rolled Film Distillation (RFD).
If you’re setting up an ethanol extraction lab, you’ll need the following machines installed in a C1D2 operating space (listed below in chronological order of the ethanol extraction and refinement process).
1. Chilling: Inline Chiller
Although ethanol extraction can be performed under room temperature, typically it is performed most efficiently by pre-chilling the alcohol solution to approximately -40°C in an inline chiller such as the DC-40 Direct Inline Chiller.
This first step of the cold ethanol extraction process is performed to increase the efficiency of the solvent’s ability to separate cannabinoids and other desirable compounds from the plant material thereby reducing the number of post-extraction processes. It is for this reason that cold temperature ethanol extraction is more commonly used in large-scale ethanol extraction labs than room temperature extraction.
How does it work?
To reduce the temperature of the ethanol for cold ethanol extraction, an industrial inline chiller (refrigeration system that uses low temperatures to process fluids) rapidly chills the ethanol solution.
When the ethanol solution is cooled down to the desired temperature, it’s then ready for the next stage of the process: to be added into an extraction system such as the CUP Series (Centrifuge Utility Platform) system (see next step) along with high quality cannabis or hemp biomass
2. Extraction: Centrifuge Utility Platform (CUP)
The next step is extraction; where the biomass is soaked and agitated in chilled ethanol solvent to extract cannabinoid compounds within a centrifuge. The CUP Series, otherwise known as the Centrifuge Utility Platform is our state of the art, industry-leading ethanol extraction equipment.
Currently operating in nearly every large-scale cannabis and industrial hemp extraction lab in North America, the recently patented (U.S. Patent #10814338) Centrifuge Utility Platform (CUP-15 and CUP-30 AKA “CUP Series”) works to target and extract compounds from a variety of plant materials including cannabinoid derivatives from hemp and cannabis.
How does it work?
It works similar in action to a top-loading clothes washing machine, the pre-chilled ethanol solution is added to the milled plant biomass to facilitate the initial extraction process. The ethanol soaks the biomass while the CUP agitates to extract cannabinoid compounds via a closed-loop centrifugal force.
Combining a closed-loop, alcohol extraction system with mechanical centrifugation ensuring a high-purity, consistent extraction. Depending on your desired end-product, you can target specific plant compounds through programmable sequences, effectively isolating your desired separation.
The CUP Series boasts 97% alcohol removal from biomass, while also streamlining production times and maximizing extraction yield.
The process is incredibly efficient and fast! The runtime for a CUP-15 extraction system is 15 minutes and for the CUP-30, 20 minutes! This allows operators to process up to 600 pounds of material in a standard eight-hour shift. With the touch of a button, the automated program menu runs the cycle to the user’s specifications.
The resulting output of the CUP extraction machine is a cannabinoid-rich ethanol solution typically known as “tincture” which then needs to be filtered to remove suspended particulates and then evaporated to remove the remaining ethanol.
3. Filtration: Particulate Filter
While you’re using your ethanol solvent to extract precious cannabinoids it pays to optimize each part of the process to maximize efficiencies and increase profitability. The ability to squeeze your margins can make or break your extraction business.
Using a particulate filter will allow for the removal of suspended particulates and adsorbents from your ethanol solution. This means you’ll be able to reuse the same ethanol for multiple extractions. Cannabinoids can be extracted from multiple bags of biomass thereby reducing the cost of production.
How does it work?
To properly and effectively extract cannabinoids, most processors extract with cold ethanol which requires the chilling of large amounts of ethanol quickly to very cold temperatures (see step 1 above of the process using the DC-40 Direct Chiller).
One of the best ways to optimize this part of the extraction process is to saturate your ethanol solvent with as much cannabinoids as it can hold to minimize the amount of ethanol you need to evaporate later on. This saturation is achieved by extracting multiple bags of biomass in the CUP-15/30 with the same volume of ethanol.
This is the point in the process where the lenticular filtration skid comes into play. The skid filters the ethanol between extractions on the CUP-15/30 machine to allow the DC-40 to maintain solvent temperature so that the same solution can be used for up to 3 bags of biomass. The end-result is an ultra-saturated ethanol solution (crude oil) that is ready to go into the evaporator.
4. Evaporation: Falling Film Evaporator (FFE)
After you have fully saturated your ethanol solvent with cannabinoids and terpenes it’s now ready to go into the evaporator for separation. This part of the process removes the ethanol solvent resulting in a crude hemp or cannabis oil.
Our innovative FFE Series Falling Film Evaporator is ideal for hemp or cannabis oil separation and ethanol alcohol recovery from your extracted biomass tincture. The FFE is a semi-continuous, very rugged, and reliable solvent recovery platform that system maintains a high evaporation rate, which significantly increases the throughput of crude oil production, eliminating the need for multiple large rotary evaporator systems.
How does it work?
During operation, the tincture is syphoned into a closed system at low pressure. A flowmeter regulates the rate at which the tincture is shotgun fed onto a heated evaporator column down which it flows in a laminar fashion. This thin film distribution of the tincture allows for very efficient exposure of the solvent to the heat from the column.
Gravity pulls the concentrated oil down the column and into a collection column below. As the solvent and some residual crude oil are turned to vapor, they travel along the vapor path to another shorter column and must travel against gravity toward the heat exchangers. Any residual moisture or crude oil that managed to make it through to the secondary column is separated there due to their having greater molecular weights than ethanol. The distilled ethanol is then re-condensed along the heat exchangers before being delivered back as a reproofed solvent.
5. Decarboxylation: Decarb Vessel
The process of decarboxylation is essential to produce nearly all refined cannabinoid derivatives and end-products. In order to move on to the next step in the process (molecular distillation or fractional distillation) we need to first decarboxylate the extracted cannabinoids while also removing as many of the lower-boiling point compounds as possible.
In fact, decarboxylation is the most important step in producing cannabis distillate extract of premium quality. While the quality of the biomass, the rigor of the extraction, and the sensitivity of the distillation are also crucial, the only chemistry in the entire cannabis purification process occurs in the decarboxylation reactor.
Decarbing crude oil is the simple process of adding heat to raw ‘acidic’ versions of the cannabinoid molecules (like THCA, CBDA, and CBGA) to release the carboxyl molecule group to convert them to their more easily consumed and more potent versions (like THC, CBD, and CBG).
What is not so simple is knowing which temperature threshold produces the highest quality derivative and is held within the extractor’s realm of expertise.
How does it work?
Decarbing on an industrial scale calls for starting with the correct vessel and our recommendation is a glass vessel. While a steel variant may prove to be sturdier, being able to view your crude oil as it releases CO2 is a vital metric; the more of the vessel visible during operation, the better.
A liquid jacketed reactor is ideal as it provides full visibility of the extract throughout the reaction, and also allows for unparalleled control of the heat level within the vessel. The capability to increase the temperature incrementally is most desirable.
Budget reactors will often come with a jacket heating mantle that will be temperamental, and often overshoot the heat it delivers to the chamber if not handled very carefully. This can be catastrophic as overheating cannabis oil can convert desired products or even carbonize it, complicating downstream processing.
Once the oil has been decarbed it is then ready for distillation and further refinement.
6. Distillation: Rolled Film Short Path Distillation (RFD)
Welcome to the final stage of the process: distillation.
Here we separate out the purified THC, CBD, CBG, and other desirable compounds from the decarbed crude oil to produce highly sought-after distillate which goes on to be transformed into multiple end-products. From vape juice to tinctures to gel caps, it all starts out as distillate.
Our Rolled Film Short Path Distillation technology is engineered to refine targeted compounds from crude botanical extracts and deliver clear distillate at fast speeds. Featuring durable stainless-steel construction to enhance heat transfer capacity, the RFD-27 is a must-have for your ethanol extraction suite if you’re wanting to produce the highest quality and purity of Category A distillate.
Regarding the distillation of cannabis or hemp oils in a lab setting, a workflow involving multiple cuts to remove several fractions of terpenes from decarboxylated crude oil ensures the absolute deepest vacuum possible during the cannabinoid pass.
These terpenes must be removed as their highly volatile nature creates vapor pressure, which in turn increases the volume of gas that must be displaced by the pump to achieve a desirable distillation pressure for the desired oils.
After this step, preliminary fractions often referred to as the, “tails” will be distilled. This fraction is usually of lower quality and is separated from the main fraction known as the, “heart” fraction of the distillation which will yield the more pristinely colored and pure distillate.
The end portions of the distillation will also present with subpar quality oil that is separated and is also referred to as, “tails” fractions and used for products such as edibles or topicals as opposed to the highest quality distillates that are often used in vape cartridges.
How does it work?
Common to many labs, a traditional short path distillation array consists of a large boiling flask typically made of a Borosilicate glass. This material is resistant to the immense amount of heat it is meant to endure during a distillation.
Along the vapor path a condensing coil will be connected through which chilled water or an analogous fluid will be run for the purpose of condensing distillates.
One or more receiving flasks are situated just under the tip of the condensing surface for the collection of the purified fractions of the distillation.
Occasionally, multiple stages of condensers are used to isolate components that have boiling points that are far enough apart that the vapors from each can be selectively captured by the condenser chilled to condensing temperature of each substance, respectively. This technique is known as fractional distillation.
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) Extraction Equipment
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide), alongside ethanol, is also one of the most popular solvents used to extract cannabinoids and terpenes from hemp and cannabis. The process of CO2 extraction uses pressurized carbon dioxide CO2 as a solvent to pull CBD, THC, terpenes, and other minor cannabinoids from cannabis and hemp.
One of the main benefits of CO2 is that it yields clean and pure cannabinoid derivatives. CO2 is considered to be a very safe method of extraction because as a solvent it is non-volatile and leaves no residual chemicals. In many other industries, it is used for plant oil extraction for purposes such as the decaffeination of coffee and the production of essential oils from a myriad of plants.
CO2 leaves zero trace behind unlike other solvents, such as hydrocarbons like propane and butane. This is critically important, particularly in medicinal products that may be used by people with compromised immune systems such as cancer victims. CO2 is a safe, highly versatile and efficient solvent.
Most well-known for its ability to extract fragile plant terpenes, CO2 is ideal for producing high-quality hemp and cannabis distillates that retain the original flavor profile of the plant strain. CO2 is perfect for end-products such as vape cartridges or other products where retaining the “full spectrum” original flavor of beneficial cannabis and/or hemp compounds is important.
How does CO2 extraction work?
The key to CO2 extraction is the manipulation of temperatures and pressures whereupon it acts like a solvent. It extracts cannabis and hemp concentrates under high pressure and extremely low temperatures to isolate, preserve, and maintain the purity of the extracted oil.
Ideally used by serious extractors, this method requires sophisticated CO 2 extraction equipment and significantly more training than ethanol extraction, but when the extraction process is executed correctly the end-product is very pure, potent, and free of chlorophyll.
The extraction process begins by turning CO2 gas into a liquid. This is achieved by dropping the temperature below -69°F (-56.11°C) while simultaneously increasing pressure to over 75 pounds psi.
The next step involves raising the temperature and pressure past the point where the liquid becomes ‘supercritical’ so that the CO2 now has properties of gas and liquid simultaneously. And here’s where the ‘magic’ of CO2 extraction happens.
When the temperature and pressure of the CO2 are above 1083psi AND 88°F, the CO2 is considered supercritical (high pressure/high temperature). The supercritical phase has a unique combination of gas and liquid-like properties – it can effuse through solids like a gas (meaning it has low surface tension and can get deep into the nooks and crannies of the plant material to get access to the oils within), and dissolves materials like a liquid (important for extraction!). Supercritical CO2 is sometimes described as a “cloud” because it is cloudy and you can’t see through it.
Just like with ethanol extraction, the CO2 extraction process may include several ‘cuts’ to the solvent extracting different derivatives at different temperatures and pressures.
Skilled cannabinoid extractors will often do a “terpene run” first, pull the terpenes, and then continue running sub-critically (low pressure, low temperature) to harvest another extract. Finally, finishing off with a supercritical run (high pressure, high temperature).
By utilizing the CO2 this way, we’re getting everything out of the plant that we possibly can. Each extract can be used in different derivatives and end-products. For example, the terpene gleaned from the terpene run can go directly into vape pens and sublingual drops because the oils are light, fragrant, and pure.
The oils extracted supercritically, will contain more from the plant material, and will therefore require further post-processing steps to remove the waxes, fats, and lipids extracted along with the oil.
After CO2 extraction, the resulting cannabinoid-rich solution is passed through a separator to separate out and collect the desired compounds (cannabinoids, terpenes, etc.). The CO2 is then condensed, turned back into a liquid, and it’s then ready to be used again and again.
If you’re setting up a CO2 extraction lab, you’ll need a “closed loop” CO2 extracting machine and other ancillary equipment.
What equipment is needed for CO2 Extraction?
CO2 extraction is performed by a “closed-loop extractor” which is an extractor vessel that is completely sealed off from the outside atmosphere. This means that the CO2 solvent never comes in contact with the air. The CO2 solvent is looped through the closed loop system moving through the hemp or cannabis biomass repeatedly to extract as many cannabinoids and terpenes as possible.
All CO2 extraction equipment has three chambers within a “closed loop” system:
- The first chamber contains pressurized, liquid CO2 ;
- The second chamber contains hemp or cannabis biomass;
- The third chamber separates out the resulting extracted product.
Closed-loop CO2 extraction systems are chosen by industry professionals because they are more cost-effective, efficient, safer, and capable of producing higher quality end-products.
Pictured above is Apeks Supercritical’s mid-range CO2 system The Transformer®. Equipped with the Apeks Diaphragm Compressor Technology, this CO2 extraction machine allows for cold separation to preserve volatile oils ensuring high-quality extractions.
The energy-efficient, low maintenance Diaphragm Compressor gas pump increases processing efficiency — 20 to 50% faster extractions — while consuming just half the power!
This system is ideal for mid to high-volume production operations or areas where limited electrical power is available. Uses 230V single-phase power or 3-phase 230v, 208v, 460v.
Ultimately, the CO 2 extraction equipment you’ll need will depend on the scale of your operation, your budget, facility size, and of course, your desired end-product/s. The good thing is–just like with ethanol–you can start small and build your lab organically.
Apeks’ introductory models can get you started and when you’re ready to scale up, we have Mid-range and High Production systems, capable of processing up to 100 pounds of material per day.
The full range of Apeks’ CO2 extraction equipment systems include:
Which products is CO2 extraction ideal for producing?
Due to its ability to extract “full spectrum” cannabinoid derivatives, CO2 is ideal for retaining the strain-specific, unique flavor and scent profiles making it ideal for producing full-spectrum cannabis distillates. CO2 is valued for its ability to preserve the unique but fragile terpenes that are so highly valued by cannabis connoisseurs and give each strain it’s character.
By tweaking the ratios of pressure, temperature, and solvent, various cannabinoid derivatives can be extracted by trained extractors. As a result, CO2-based derivatives have become the go-to in the cannabis and hemp market for everything from edibles to isolates. CO2 is incredibly customizable and adaptable to the changing needs of the marketplace and ideal for both small startups and large MSOs.
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Apeks CO2 cannabis oil extractors for cannabis oil concentrate.
Designed by staff engineers with expertise in industrial automation and 17-plus years’ experience building cannabis oil extractors. Apeks Supercritical CO2 extraction systems efficiently extract pure, high-quality essential oils. While any botanical material can be extracted, the majority of our customers use Apeks equipment to extract oils from cannabis and hemp to produce CBD and other products.
Our customers are producing some award-winning oils with Apeks systems which feature simple fractional extraction and cold separation processes to preserve volatile oils for higher-quality and higher-quantity yields. When plant matter is exposed to too much heat or cold, terpenes (scent) and flavonoids (taste) are impaired (thermal degradation). We take every precaution to avoid this, which is why our systems are water jacketed.
High output Apeks Duplex® System – optimized for low pressure/low temperature subcritical extractions
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Cannabis oil concentrate (Hemp)
Apeks machines are designed to extract cannabis oil concentrate. The new Duplex® system pulls oils very quickly in a subcritical extraction, which means less post processing work needs to be done because not many undesirable materials were extracted (fats, waxes, etc.). The Duplex® also allows for quick processing during supercritical run, if you’re wanting the entire extract. The quality of the cannabis oil depends on what you put in. If you put high quality cannabis in, for example with a 20% THC content, you’ll get 20% THC in return, but it will be concentrated. The base material is important – you can’t expect to put poor quality material in and get high quality oil out.
Controlled decarboxylation and greater yields of THCA.
TCHa is converted to THC via a chemical process using heat called decarboxylation. Apeks thermally-sensitive extraction equipment allow processors greater control over the decarboxylation of their extractions because cold separation does not decarboxylate (or very minimally) the extracted oils in the separator as most competitor systems do. Therefore, processors can produce on average a 20% greater yield of THCa. This is important because converting THCa to THC by decarboxylation activates the psychotropic elements of cannabis which some processors and end-users don’t want. Some prefer non-psychotropic cannabis concentrates to put in medical cannabis products aimed at children, or for patients who want the medicinal benefits, not the intoxicating effects.
Old Faithful – Hemp and cannabis extraction equipment.
Apeks systems have rightfully gained the reputation among processors and extraction experts as being solid performers, built to last. Knowing they’ll be working with their machines for many years, customers are known to affectionately call them by name like Old Faithful, The Workhorse and The Beast.
Apeks systems use carbon dioxide as a solvent, which is safer, purer, and cleaner than alternative extraction methods. The CO2 is pumped through a closed loop system, converting CO2 from gas to liquid, and back to gas again. Using high pressure, the gaseous CO2 is pumped through the extraction vessel where it becomes liquid and extracts the oil. Then the liquid CO2 and oil flow to the separator vessel during which the CO2 is decompressed, converting back to gas. In the separator vessel the CO2 separates from the denser, heavier oil which drops down into a collection cup. The CO2 then continues its loop and is recovered in the gas cannisters. Approximately 90% of the CO2 is recovered during an extraction.
The systems work best with ground up, dried cannabis (or other) plant material. The plant material should be dried thoroughly. CO2 extraction doesn’t like water in the source material so drying the cannabis properly beforehand is essential. Customers in humid climates sometimes use freeze dryers to remove water from the plant. Once dried, the material should be ground to coffee-ground consistency before loading into the extraction vessel. CO2 is pumped through it, extracting the oil. The CO2 and oil move to the separator vessel where the denser, heavier oil drops down into a collection cup. The CO2 then continues its loop and is recovered in the gas canisters.