Initial Cannabis & Hemp Extraction: Buyer’s Guide


Precision Team


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    Cannabis & Hemp Extraction Solutions

    The Importance of Initial Extraction

    Whether you are processing THC cannabis material or hemp material with high CBD content, the most important step in the processing chain is arguably the initial cannabis or hemp extraction.

    This is the process by which the desirable compounds are extracted from the cannabis plant material, so they can then be further refined to produce viable end products.

    We use the term “crude oil” to describe the oil that has been extracted directly from the plant material. The crude oil will often contain a variety of both wanted and unwanted compounds, such as cannabinoids, fats, waxes, lipids, sugars, terpenes, pesticides, heavy metals, or a range of other compounds found on the plant material itself.

    Cannabis & Hemp Extraction Systems

    There are quite a few different types of cannabis extraction systems that produce crude oil. Some even produce very high-quality oil, which can be sold as a consumer-facing end product. The main factors that contribute to the initial extraction are desired throughput, extraction temperature, and end-product identification.

    Depending on how much cannabis plant material you need to process (and what end products you are trying to create), some initial extraction methods will be more suitable than others. Below we will look at three of the most common types of initial cannabis extraction systems, why you would choose one over the other, and how they fit into the processing chain for producing viable consumer cannabinoid products.

    Ethanol Extraction

    Ethanol extraction is a very common type of initial cannabis or hemp extraction when dealing with large amounts of plant material. This extraction method is often preferred when trying to process 100 lb or more of cannabis plant material per day. This is most often associated with hemp and CBD production but can also be applied to THC plant material as well.

    Ethanol is a very aggressive solvent that can pull many unwanted compounds from the cannabis plant material if the extraction is not performed efficiently. When performing ethanol extraction, the goal is to use the coldest solvent possible so that only desirable compounds are extracted from the cannabis plant material.

    The most common type of extraction equipment used for ethanol extraction is a centrifuge. Centrifuges are a rather simple mechanism and can be scaled quite easily. The centrifuge is loaded with plant material and then the ethanol solvent is introduced into the system. Centrifuges usually have two cycles: The first is a washing and agitation cycle to remove all the cannabinoids from the plant material. The second is a spin-dry cycle, which removes excess solvent from the cannabis plant material before it is removed from the system.

    To perform ethanol extraction more efficiently, centrifuges can be paired with a solvent chilling system. These usually use direct refrigeration and a holding tank to rapidly chill the ethanol solvent before it is introduced into the centrifuge.

    Ethanol extraction requires further post-processing to create a desirable end product. This method of cannabis or hemp extraction is commonly used for making end products such as distillate or isolate. These end products require further processing steps after the initial extraction, but because of the high throughput of ethanol extraction, they are often easier to produce in bulk when compared to extraction methods with lower throughput.

    Ethanol Extraction Products

    Hydrocarbon Extraction

    Another popular method for initial cannabis or hemp extraction is hydrocarbon extraction, more commonly referred to as closed-loop extraction.

    Closed-loop extraction systems utilize butane or propane as the extraction solvent. Because butane and propane are mostly vapor at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, these systems employ sophisticated temperature control units to manipulate the state of the hydrocarbon solvent. Just as with ethanol extraction, hydrocarbon extraction is performed most efficiently when the solvent is as cold as possible. This will limit the amount of undesirable compounds extracted from the cannabis plant material.

    Hydrocarbon extraction can be considered a small-to-medium-throughput extraction method. Most systems can process anywhere from 10 to 50 lb of cannabis plant material per day, with some systems being capable of processing close to 100 lb per day.

    Hydrocarbon extraction systems are relatively easy to scale, but because of the time and associated temperature control needs, hydrocarbon extraction becomes impractical for the largest processing operations.

    Both hydrocarbon extraction and closed-loop extraction systems have the ability to create very high-quality cannabis oil directly from the systems themselves. This oil is often referred to by a variety of names depending on the consistency of the end product.

    Some common cannabis oils created with a closed-loop extraction system are: live resin, shatter, diamonds, sauce, etc. These are most often THC-based products for the consumer market.

    As with ethanol extraction, hydrocarbon extraction can also be used to create crude oil for further processing. Although, depending on the amount of cannabis plant material you need to process, it may be more practical to use an ethanol extraction system if your desired end products are distillate or isolate.

    Hydrocarbon Extraction Products

    CO2 Extraction

    A third common cannabis / hemp extraction type is CO2 Extraction. CO2 usually has a lower throughput than both ethanol and hydrocarbon extraction, but CO2 has some interesting selective capabilities that the other two extraction methods do not have.

    CO2 can often pull different “fractions” by manipulating the pressure and temperature of the CO2 while it is in the extraction system. This is most commonly a terpene fraction and a cannabinoid fraction, which can be used to create further end products or refined and sold by themselves. CO2 can produce either crude oil (for further processing) or be used as an end product itself. CO2 oil can go through additional post-processing steps to remove undesirable compounds and create a clean consumer end product.

    CO2 Extraction can be scaled, but it is usually expensive to do so. Depending on your desired cannabinoid end products, CO2 extraction can be a good choice for consistent oil production, whereas hydrocarbon or ethanol extraction may be a better choice if higher throughput is desired.


    These are just three of the most common solvent-based cannabis and hemp extraction systems. Of course, there are other methods of extraction, but these three types have proven to be exceptional at creating a wide variety of cannabis oils and consumer end products.

    All three methods have their own scalability and throughput, but rest assured that each method can and will be used for many years to come, as the cannabis processing industry becomes more mainstream.

    Unsure what extraction method is the best for your operation? Precision experts are here to help! 

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