Butane, hexane, and CO2 reign supreme in the extraction world, but with the cannabis extraction market set to hit $28.5 billion by 2027 (as per Grandview Research), the push is on to find more efficient, more affordable, and cleaner technologies.
The perfect extraction technology, should it exist, would preserve the full plant profile. It would be ecologically sustainable and safe for both the manufacturer and the final consumer. Most importantly, it would need to be scalable to feed the demands of a multi-billion-dollar industry.
Thus far, extract tech fails to tick all the boxes — but that doesn’t mean new developments aren’t happening all the time. Here are three of the most exciting extraction technologies you may not have heard of.
SPAGYRIC CANNABIS EXTRACTION
Spagyric cannabis extraction is one part ancient alchemy and one part speculation. Proponents claim it’s an extraction process that captures the complete essence of the original plant. However, this historical extraction process is gaining more attention among a particular demographic.
Spagyric is a process first developed within the alchemy movement of the 15th century by a Swiss-born philosopher and alchemist named Paracelsus (1493–1541). The etymology of the word spagyric comes from the Greek terms “spao” and “ageiro,” meaning to separate and combine.
In modern applications, this means soaking plant matter in alcohol for several weeks, then burning the leftover biomass at high temperatures. The leftover ash (minerals) gets added back into the alcohol extraction.
Companies using the spagyric extraction process claim it creates a final product that is more water-soluble and bioavailable than other methods. More colorful assertions talk about capturing the plant’s spirit into a final synergistic product.
To date, no publications have tested these claims for cannabis-specific extractions (as published through PubMed). Only six papers published in the last decade mention spagyric extraction more generally, but most of these are historical reviews.
At the time of writing, spagyric extractions had failed to catch on in the mainstream cannabis and/or CBD market. However, many small brands sell CBD tinctures and oils extracted using this technique. These are typically small-batch productions, with words like “intrinsic,” “essence,” and “handcrafted” in their branding. Only a few brands seem to publish third-party lab results for these products.
LOW-PRESSURE, LOW-TEMP CANNABIS EXTRACTION
Popular hydrocarbon-based extraction technologies often require both high heat and sometimes pressure. Even CO2 extraction, which uses supercritical temperatures, requires high pressure. But, as consumers demand hydrocarbon-free and full-spectrum extractions, low-pressure, low-temperature solutions are on the rise.
Historically this means ethanol-based technology, which combines low-temperature extraction with filters, allowing for products created without the need for excessive pressure. It’s nothing new, as ethanol-based botanical extracts have been used for centuries, but recent developments are improving upon this age-old method.
Healer CBD is one such company working toward a low-pressure and low-temperature process to preserve a full-spectrum profile while avoiding the possible risk of hydrocarbon solvents.
The patented nano-filtration process removes the unwanted contaminants, including impurities, but a second layer then removes the solvent. The result is a full-spectrum extract created with no need for hydrocarbons, high heat, or excessive pressure.
Unlike fringe extraction methods such as spagyric, low-pressure, and low-temperature technologies are taking hold within the cannabis and CBD markets.
For example, PURE5 Extraction uses a modified non-flammable, non-toxic hydrocarbon for room temperature extractions. Precision Extraction has several low or room temp centrifugal extractors, which also tap into this demand.
VAPOR-STATIC CANNABIS EXTRACTION
A very recent development in the extraction world is vapor-static, a proprietary method developed by Boulder Creek Technologies. Much like a personal vaporizer, this technology applies heat to cannabis or hemp plant material, creating a vapor. The vapor then goes through a cooling process within an electrostatic precipitator, which condenses the resulting oil into a concentrate.
Rick Bonde, CEO, and Founder of Boulder Creek, breaks it down: “When we use a personal vaporizer, we condense and collect the cannabinoids with our lungs. With the Vapo-Static System, we substitute an electric charge to achieve the same result.”
This technology is solventless, but it’s scalable, unlike rosin presses or other popular solvent-free extraction methods. According to Bonde, “Vapor-Static Extraction technology can handle 5,000 pounds or more of biomass per 24-hour cycle, with an extraction efficiency able to reach 90 percent.”
Solventless comes with other benefits beyond commercial scalability requirements. It reduces operational costs, perhaps by as much as 80 percent compared to ethanol and CO2. Without petrochemical solvents, it is naturally one of the most sustainable extractions available. Not to mention, as vapor static extraction does not rely on high pressure or hazardous chemicals, manufacturers don’t need a C1D1 or C1D2 facility.
THE WORLD OF PLANT EXTRACTION IS GETTING BETTER ALL THE TIME
Butane may have been the extraction method of choice a decade ago, but this is no longer the industry standard. Instead, the extraction industry is in a constant state of evolution, always striving to create safer technologies with higher outputs that preserve the plant’s full spectrum.
While spagyric methods may never truly take off in the mainstream (at least not without significant scientific study), other methods like vapor-static extraction seem poised to become the industry standard. If the end goal is to create a better final product, we are well on our way to perfecting this process.