Cannabis extraction labs are facilities where cannabis plant material is processed into various products, such as oils, waxes, and other concentrates. In order to extract the plant’s active compounds, solvents such as butane, propane, carbon dioxide (Co2) or ethanol are used. The resulting product is then purified and often blended with other ingredients to create a final product.
There are many different types of cannabis extraction labs, each with their own unique methods and products. Some extraction labs specialize in producing smokable products like waxes or other concentrates while others focus on producing distillate oil that is more commonly used in edible products or vaping products.
No matter what type of products a cannabis extraction lab produces, the goal is always to produce a high-quality product that is safe for consumption. To that end, cannabis extraction labs must adhere to strict safety and quality standards.
The Various Types of Cannabis Extraction Labs
As mentioned above, there are many different types of cannabis extraction labs, each with their own unique methods and products. Here is a brief overview of some of the most common types of cannabis extraction labs:
Hydrocarbon Extraction Labs: Hydrocarbon extraction labs create most of the smokable cannabis concentrates on the market. In hydrocarbon labs, butane or propane are used to extract compounds from the plant material (usually trim but in some cases flower). When using butane, propane, or blends of the two. Butane / Propane Blends combine the benefits of both hydrocarbons – providing lower boiling points for quicker solvent recovery while maintaining higher terpene retention.
Hydrocarbon extraction labs are the most common extraction labs in the cannabis industry today. Hydrocarbons are most commonly used in the extraction of cannabis, not hemp, because of their lower output capacities and higher quality concentrates. However, hydrocarbon extraction is one of the more dangerous extraction methods. Since butane and propane changes phases from liquid to gas during the process, the risk of escaped solvent from the system, and remaining solvent in the plant material can cause risks for the operators if not handled correctly. The safest way to extract using hydrocarbons is to keep the process contained in a C1D1 enclosure. These hazardous spaces are explosion-proof and have safety measures to ensure there are no ignition sources. For more on C1D1’s, check out our blog.
Co2 Extraction Labs: Co2 extraction labs also produce smokable cannabis extracts, and are used in both cannabis and hemp extraction. Co2 labs have more scalability than hydrocarbon extraction labs, meaning they can process more material, and create more extract. Like hydrocarbons, Co2 transfers phase from liquid to gas. This is done using a compressor to put large amounts of pressure on the Co2 gas. Under this high pressure (over 1000 psi), CO2 is compressed until it has the density of a liquid and becomes “supercritical” carbon dioxide – neither a gas nor a liquid.
Co2 extraction is typically considered a safe alternative to hydrocarbon extraction. Co2 itself is nonflammable, so it poses less of a fire / explosion hazard. However, using such high pressures does pose a risk of its own. It is very important to check that the Co2 extractor has been maintenance and all the connections are intact.
Ethanol Extraction Labs: Ethanol extraction labs are used most commonly in hemp extraction. Ethanol extraction is very scalable – H&H has designed and built ethanol extraction labs capable of processing 30,000 lbs of biomass per day. This large throughput has become a necessity based on the fallout in pricing on CBD extracts produced from hemp in 2019 – 2022. CBD prices are beginning to stabilize as of late, but the future of the market is still unclear.
Ethanol extraction, while very scalable, has its drawbacks. Ethanol extraction only allows processors to make one product – Crude Oil. Crude oil is a full plant extract and has some amazing health benefits, and can be used in this form for infused products like tinctures and edibles. However, crude oil is dark, aromatic, and has a very rough taste. Most processors further refine the crude oil into distillate. The crude oil must be winterized before distillation – a process of removing fats, waxes, lipids, chlorophyll, and other undesirables. Once the crude oil is winterized, it is put through the distillation process.
Distillation removes volatiles like terpenes and any leftover residual extraction solvent. It also removes the dark “tar fraction” that was not removed in the winterization process. What you’re left with is a gold honey-like oil.
Ethanol extraction is typically considered safe and usually only the extraction vessel (like a centrifuge) is required to be in a C1D1 enclosure. This is because the centrifuge needs to be loaded and unloaded with plant material and there is residual ethanol that remains in the plant material after the soak and spin out.
Conclusion: Cannabis extraction labs play an important role in the production of various cannabis-based products. These labs must adhere to strict safety and quality standards in order to produce high-quality products that are safe for consumption. Containing the extraction process, safe operating procedures, and proper handling of solvent all contribute to a safe process, and safe cannabis extracts.
For more on extraction processes, C1D1s, and extracts check out our other blogs.