traditional extraction to distillate process
This image shows a typical process including extraction, winterization, solvent removal, decarboxylation and finally distillation. In botanical extraction, the biomass is loaded into the extraction vessel and then the extracted oil is collected. The collected oil is then typically dissolved in ethanol and placed in a freezer to precipitate the waxes. After the waxes are precipitated, the solids are filtered leaving the tincture laden with active ingredients. Then the ethanol is removed from the tincture. The remaining oil is called winterized oil. Typically, this winterized oil is then decarboxylated before it Is distilled. In the decarboxylation process, the oil is stirred in a jacketed reactor at 150°C. This enables complete decarboxylation of the acids in the oil. Finally, the decarboxylated oil is distilled in a molecular wiped film apparatus.

Enabled: A Completely Contained Transition from Extraction to Distillate Automation.

continuous solution automation

The above image shows the completely contained Extraction to Distillation Automation. The automation eliminates winterization, the use of ethanol, the freezer, the filtration apparatus, and the decarboxylation reactor. As shown, the extractor output is directed through a contained interface to condition and warehouse the oil as it is waiting for distillation.

Many benefits come with using this type of automation. The below discussion details some of the key benefits.

Benefit #1: Automation Increases Yield

Our data shows this automation yields 15% more oil w/w, and 19% more cannabinoids compared to the winterization process. This improvement in yield is completely expected since there are no transfers of oil from one vessel to another. It is well known transfer losses are an important factor in the overall yield with a multi-step process.

automation video cover

Benefit #2: Eliminate The Filtration Process

It is clear the filtration process itself is a high loss process. Automation avoids the losses of the cannabinoids to the wax waste.

Benefit #3: Automation Avoids Ethanol

CO2 extraction is by far the lowest cost extraction method. To explore this further, we have an Environmental Sustainability Calculator: Ethanol vs CO2 calculator you can use to estimate your facility’s savings with CO2 extraction.

Historically, the CO2 extraction method has been plagued with claims the method is slow and energy intensive and the equipment is expensive. Those claims were true as legacy providers marketed unreliable, sub-par, energy intensive equipment. These issues coupled with the cumbersome process of winterization, left many operators with a desire to avoid CO2 extraction altogether.

However, it is now clear, alternative extraction methods carry too many unanticipated costs. Many of the “go big or go home“ processors who adopted ethanol because it was fast, are now going out business. This is due to the untenable cost structure of ethanol extraction. The reality is a relatively small CO2 machine can keep up with thousands of doses and a large machine can keep up with hundreds of thousands of doses. While also providing the cleanest extracts at the lowest price possible.

“Go big or go home goes bust is the lesson.” – Dr. Jon

Next generation CO2 extraction equipment such as provided by extraktLAB has changed the game. extraktlab equipment has a very small energy footprint; the highest sustainability benefits; and has relatively high throughput compared to first generation machines. Most importantly, common sense selection of highly engineered pumping equipment has made the CO2 extractors highly reliable. Many of the issues with first generation CO2 equipment are no longer valid.


  • CO2 is a very attractive solvent because it is much less expensive than ethanol per unit weight.
  • CO2 is also very attractive because the raffinate can be easily composted without further treatment, unlike ethanol or hydrocarbon raffinate.
  • CO2 is very attractive solvent because it can be recycled easily and inexpensively unlike ethanol or hydrocarbon which need to be manifested as hazardous waste.
  • CO2 is an attractive solvent because unlimited amounts of it may be stored indoors or outdoors – without any concern for explosion or fire hazard.
  • CO2 is an attractive solvent because it produces chemical residual free extracts.

For more information about Supercritical CO2 Extraction, download our Advanced Extraction Guide
or watch the demonstration of CO2 Extraction vs Ethanol Extraction: Costs of Operation.

Benefit #4: Automation Provides Potent Output80% potency distillate from automation

Our data shows we will typically obtain around 80% potent extract from the continuous Extraction to Distillation interface. 80% potency is completely respectable for potent distillate. In general, the greater the potency the more desirable the distillate. This potency can be increased by optimizing the parameters on the distillation equipment. In a traditional process, you would trade off throughput for potency.

Again, you can learn more about this process and the potency by watching the above video.

Benefit #5: Automation Enables Containment

Containment systems are a huge benefit to operators working in a GMP environment. This is primarily because each process associated with the overall process must be validated. Typically, quality control checkpoints are instituted in between each of the processes to ensure the process is under control. Additionally, typical manufacturing facilities are designed to address external contamination in the event the active pharmaceutical ingredient is exposed to the atmosphere.

Containment systems reduce the number of control checkpoints, reduce the overall validation workload, reduce facility costs, and also reduce the possibility of external contamination thereby providing an overall better product for the patient.

These are the primary reasons why the international committee on harmonization for drug development and good manufacturing practices has given the guidance to use containment systems wherever possible. In the case of extraction, it is an obvious solution for GMP operations to automate their process with containment systems.

Benefit #6: Automation Decreases Manufacturing Overhead and Inventory

The cash conversion cycle establishes the primary contributors to overall cash flow. One Aspect to improving cash flow is to manage inventory and also manage the velocity of that inventory through the operation. This is typically understood in terms of inventory turns.

One of the benefits to automation involves reducing the overall amount of inventory that needs to be valued and placed on the books. This is because in a continuous system, there is no need to warehouse in process inventory Associated with winterization, ethanol usage, decarboxylated oil and crude oil. As the amount of inventory decreases, the chaos within the organization will also decrease

In addition to removing large amounts of inventory, as the number of processes to manage decreases the overall manufacturing overhead will also decrease. This includes material handling overhead, maintenance overhead, and quality control and assurance overhead.

In conclusion, it is clear automation provides incalculable benefits to operations and ought to be evaluated for GMP operations.

As is true anytime you are reading articles online, the reader is encouraged to ask further questions and use the information presented to build his or her own model of understanding.