Ethanol-based extraction is a natural, safe, and effective way of extracting essential oils from virtually any plant material.
This extraction method has gained popularity in recent years due to the controversy over chemicals and other harmful ingredients being found in commercially-available cannabis extracts. Consumers wanted an efficient and reliable way to create extracts at home, with the ability to control the quality of the finished product.
A New Commercial Extraction Solution
Colorado-based company ExtractCraft stepped in to fill this need with their personal ethanol extraction system, the Source. The Source is aimed at the individual home grower, able to process between 1/2 – 2oz. of cannabis.
“We saw a need in the industry for people wanting to make their own extracts,” says Lee Sutherland, CTO, and founder of ExtractCraft. “I saw a really good way for people to be able to do this at home very safely with ethanol, so I invented the Source.”
Last fall, ExtractCraft introduced their second product, a commercial version of the Source called EtOH PRO. The EtOH is aimed at either caregivers or small business operations and can process up to one pound of dry material.
The EtOH PRO in a laboratory test. Image courtesy of Ichibancrafter
How It Works
The ethanol extraction process is simple. The plant material is first soaked in very cold alcohol – the higher the proof, the better, with 95% food-grade ethanol recommended. Soaking times will vary. For hemp and cannabis, times range from 15 minutes to 24 hours. The longer the soak time, the more plant material is released into the ethanol – beyond just THC.
Next, the alcohol is strained and poured into the inner chamber of the EtOH PRO. The unit then creates a vacuum seal using a series of pumps, bringing the inner chamber down to a very low pressure.
Gentle heat is then applied to bring the ethanol to between 100 – 103F, a process lasting between 2-3 hours. During this process, the ethanol is gradually evaporated out from the inner chamber and is condensed elsewhere in the machine.
A pure plant extract is left in the inner chamber, with at least 90% of the original volume of ethanol separated and reclaimed for future use.
The device is constrained to low temperatures, with a maximum shutoff threshold at 105F, ensuring the maximum amount of terpenes and phenols, compounds responsible for both flavor and aroma, are preserved in the final extract.
“An alcohol extraction processed without the vacuum we provide would need to be done at 170F,” says Sutherland. “At that point, you’re really blasting off a lot of compounds. Your extract is going to contain much fewer terpenes and phenols than would be present from a lower-temperature extraction.”
In addition to creating an additive-free extract, the EtOH PRO is also a safe option for those looking to scale their extraction operation.
“It’s impossible in a vacuum environment to cause ignition, particularly with alcohol,” Sutherland says. “Using one of our products is roughly as hazardous as mixing drinks in your kitchen.”
ExtractCraft has used their knowledge about ethanol extraction to consult the Colorado state legislature, to help draft the laws surrounding extraction prohibitions. As a result, the use of alcohol is exempt from any restrictions.
Expanding the Hemp and Cannabis Industries
When asked about the many uses of the EtOH PRO, Sutherland says “We’ve seen our products used in culinary settings – to make food extracts – as well as in many essential oil products. However, the biggest growth by far has been in the hemp and cannabis industries.”
This comes as no surprise. Most extraction systems are geared toward large commercial producers, operations which typically require much more power. Setup costs also include the infrastructure updates necessary to support any electrical upgrades, and permits are often needed.
“Between all these things, it can be really daunting,” says Sutherland.
Smaller hemp operations opt to buy multiple EtOH PRO units, as these can be plugged into a standard electrical outlet. The costs of running and scaling a small operation are minimal in comparison to a commercial setup, and no chemicals – like butane – are necessary.
Commitment to Customers and Innovation
ExtractCraft also has its own in-house customer support team for responding to customer inquiries during the entire life cycle of its products.
“As long as they own the machine, we’re going to be here for them,” Sutherland says of ExtractCraft’s relationship with their customers.
The company has also put together a comprehensive blog containing information from recipe ideas to extraction science and has a thriving user group of over 7,000 cannabis and hemp enthusiasts who regularly share recipes and tips.
Looking to the future, Sutherland says the company is always striving to grow their brand and engage with other diverse groups of users.
“We have a staff of very talented engineers that are working hard on new projects, and we’re really looking forward to what the next 12-18 months will bring,” says Sutherland.