The 3 Most Common Ways to Extract CBD from Biomass

Posted on September 10, 2021 by Cedarstone Industry Team

CBD extraction is a growing business we are seeing more frequently among our customers. That is no surprise, given that the federal government legalized industrial hemp and CBD products in the 2018 farm bill. A general acceptance of medical marijuana in most states only increases the need for reliable CBD extraction methods.

Extracting the largest volume of CBD from biomass is more complicated than hooking up a botanical oil extractor and pushing a few buttons. On the other hand, it is not extremely complicated in principle. The three most common methods of CBD extraction have been utilized for other forms of plant oil extraction for generations. Those methods are:

  • solvent extraction
  • steam distillation
  • CO2 extraction.

If your company is involved in processing industrial hemp for the purposes of extracting CBD, we invite you to contact us to learn more about our equipment. In the meantime, you will find a brief discussion of all three extraction methods below.

1. Solvent Extraction

Solvent extraction is a centuries-old practice of separating biomass from its desirable components by mixing it with some form of solvent. A solvent is a material that breaks down the plant life, thereby releasing the compounds it contains.

Olive oil and similar botanical oils are natural solvents known for centuries. More recently, extraction operators turned to ethanol due to its greater efficiency. Modern operators prefer synthetic solvents thanks to their lower cost. Butane and hexane are two popular options.

The two upsides of solvent extraction are efficiency and relative safety. On the downside, solvent extraction often results in less consistent CBD oils. Solvent extraction is also a bit more delicate compared to steam distillation and CO2 extraction.

2. Steam Distillation

Steam distillation also dates back centuries. It is a pretty simple process that combines heat and water to produce steam. That steam is introduced to the biomass in a distillation tank. The heat causes plant material to release its desirable compounds while the steam carries those compounds to the top of the tank where a condenser awaits.

The condenser creates a mixture consisting of the CBD compounds along with condensed water from the steam. Finally, the resulting liquid is distilled to separate the liquid mixture. You end up with a full spectrum CBD product completely separate from the distilled water.

Steam distillation is preferred by operators looking for a low-cost option that is easy to implement. Unfortunately, steam distillation does not provide consistent results. It’s also not very efficient.

3. CO2 Extraction

CO2 extraction is arguably the most complex of the three CBD extraction methods. It involves the use of supercritical CO2, a form of CO2 that displays both gaseous and liquid properties. Supercritical CO2 effectively permeates biomass to extract its desirable compounds fairly efficiently.

Where steam distillation relies on heat and steam, CO2 extraction relies on heat and pressure. Supercritical CO2 acts almost as a solvent to separate CBD oil from plant material. Then it’s a matter of capturing the resulting liquid and separating it into its various components.

CO2 extraction requires a significant amount of knowledge and experience. It is also the most consistent way to extract CBD. Finally, CO2 extraction is efficient and fast. The big downside is the need for expensive extraction equipment. If you are going to rely on CO2 extraction, be prepared for a significant investment.

Getting into the industrial hemp business as a processor generally means delving into CBD extraction. We are here to help with state-of-the-art equipment and whatever advice we can offer. Should you have any questions about how our equipment can support your extraction operation, don’t be afraid to ask.