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Ultimate Guide to Ethanol Extraction with CRC

Ultimate Guide to Ethanol Extraction with CRC

As consumer demand for purer, safer, and more potent extracts grows, so does the relentless pursuit of perfection among extractors. Ethanol extraction with color remediation provides a revolutionary synergy that’s shaping the future of cannabis extraction.

From the nuanced intricacies of CRC technology to the transformative role ethanol plays in ensuring purity, this guide will take you on a comprehensive journey through every facet of this groundbreaking refining method.

Basics of Ethanol Extraction

Ethanol extraction is one of the most popular and widely used methods in cannabis and hemp extraction—and for good reason. This method uses ethanol, a naturally derived solvent, to separate the desired cannabis compounds from the plant material. Here's a closer look at its mechanism and advantages:

How Ethanol Extraction Works

  1. Soaking and Stripping: Biomass is soaked in ethanol, allowing the ethanol solvent to penetrate the plant cells. This process separates cannabinoids, terpenes, and other desirable compounds from the biomass. The extraction time, temperature, and ethanol purity can affect the efficiency and selectivity of this step - for instance, using a cold ethanol extraction process can reduce the extraction of unwanted chlorophyll.
  2. Separation: After adequate soaking, the ethanol solution, now rich in the desired compounds, is separated from the solid plant matter. This is often done using filtration or a centrifuge.
  3. Winterization (if needed): Before the final evaporation of ethanol, the extract (still in solution with ethanol) is winterized. The solution is chilled to sub-zero temperatures, causing the plant lipids and waxes to solidify. These unwanted components are then separated from the solution, typically through filtration.
  4. Evaporation: To collect the concentrated extract, the ethanol is then evaporated. This leaves behind a concentrated cannabis or hemp extract. Distillation equipment, like a rotary evaporator or falling film evaporator, is commonly used for this purpose. 
  5. Purification: If additional refinement is required, other purification steps, like short path distillation, can be used post-evaporation to separate different compounds in the extracts by taking advantage of their unique boiling points.

Advantages of Ethanol Extraction

  • Safety: Ethanol is Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA and is less dangerous than many other solvents used in extraction processes, making it a safer choice for producing consumable products.
  • Efficiency: Ethanol can extract a wide range of compounds from the cannabis plant, including cannabinoids and terpenes, making it a versatile choice for full-spectrum extracts.
  • Scalability: Ethanol extraction can be effectively scaled up for large-scale extraction, making it suitable for both small operations and industrial-scale projects.
  • Economical: Ethanol extraction can be more cost-effective than some alternative extraction methods. When considering the price of equipment, operational costs, and the potential for high extraction yields, it can provide a good return on investment.

Common Challenges

However, like any extraction method, ethanol extraction isn’t without its challenges. One of the primary issues faced is the co-extraction of chlorophyll, which can impart a green hue and a bitter taste to the final product. 

Furthermore, warm ethanol extraction can also pull out undesirable compounds like fats and waxes from the biomass compared to cryogenic ethanol extraction, requiring further refinement and purification steps.

What Is a Color Remediation Column (CRC)?

Canabis wax

The aesthetic appeal of cannabis and hemp extracts has grown in importance as consumers become more discerning and the market more competitive. Beyond mere looks, the clarity of an extract often speaks to its purity and refinement. This is where the color remediation column (CRC) comes into play, transforming good extracts into exceptional ones.

CRC is a specialized type of filtration setup designed to remove unwanted pigments, impurities, and compounds that negatively impact the color and clarity of extracts. Structurally, it's akin to a regular column filled with various adsorbent media tailored to "trap" specific impurities from passing extracts.

A CRC column is a cylindrical vessel filled with layers of the selected adsorbent media. Extracts are passed through this column, with each layer targeting and removing specific colors and impurities. By the time the extract exits the column, it has undergone a transformative cleanup, resulting in a visually appealing and purer product.

The Science Behind Color Remediation

Color remediation has a fascinating underlying science that explains its effectiveness. To truly appreciate the power of CRC technology in ethanol extraction, one must dive into the mechanisms at play, the interactions between molecules, and the specific compounds being targeted.

Mechanism at Play

  • Adsorption: Unlike absorption where one substance is dissolved into another, adsorption involves the adhesion of molecules from a gas or liquid (adsorbate) onto a solid surface (adsorbent). In CRC, undesired compounds adhere to the surface of the adsorbent material, removing them from the final extract.
  • Chemical Affinities: Specific adsorbent materials in CRC possess chemical affinities for certain unwanted compounds. This selective attraction ensures that only certain impurities are removed, preserving the desired components of the extract.

Specific Compounds Targeted

  • Chlorophyll: One of the most notable culprits behind the green color in cannabis extracts. Chlorophyll, essential for photosynthesis in plants, is not desirable in extracts due to its strong taste and color. CRC effectively removes chlorophyll without affecting the cannabinoids or terpenes.
  • Lipids and Fats: While these compounds are essential for the plant's health, they can cloud extracts and affect the consistency of the final product. CRC can aid in their removal, especially when combined with winterization.
  • Phospholipids and Waxes: These compounds, although naturally occurring in the plant, can give extracts a hazy appearance and might contribute to a less pleasant texture.

Role of Adsorbent Materials

  • Silica Gel: Often used as a base layer in CRC, silica gel has a broad range of adsorptive capabilities, helping to remove a spectrum of unwanted compounds.
  • Activated Bleaching Earth: This material is known for its high adsorptive capacity, especially for pigmented contaminants. It's particularly effective against chlorophyll and some other colored impurities.
  • Activated Carbon: Recognized for its wide pore structure and large surface area, activated carbon can trap a variety of compounds, making it a versatile player in the CRC lineup.
  • Activated Alumina: Renowned for its selective adsorptive properties, activated alumina is particularly effective at removing saponins and enhancing clarity.

 

Polarity Interactions

  • Polar Compounds: Given ethanol is a polar solvent, it extracts a broad range of both polar and nonpolar compounds. Some undesired polar compounds, like chlorophyll, can be selectively adsorbed by certain media in the CRC.
  • Tuning the Remediation: By adjusting the mixture and arrangement of adsorbent materials, extractors can fine-tune the remediation process, targeting specific chemical compounds based on their polarities.

Benefits of Using CRC in Ethanol Extraction

While ethanol extraction has its merits, combining it with the CRC process amplifies its benefits exponentially. By integrating CRC into the extraction workflow, producers can ensure they’re delivering a product of the highest caliber, both in terms of efficacy and aesthetic appeal. 

Let's discuss the many advantages of this synergy:

Improved Aesthetics and Marketability

  • Visual Appeal: First impressions matter. A clearer, golden extract is more visually appealing to consumers compared to a darker, greenish product often associated with chlorophyll presence.
  • Consumer Confidence: A clear product often translates to purity in the consumer's mind, thereby increasing their trust in the brand and product.

Reduction of Impurities and Contaminants

  • Purity: CRC effectively removes unwanted compounds like waxes, lipids, and chlorophyll, resulting in a purer concentrate.
  • Consistency: With the ability to target and remove specific compounds, producers can achieve a consistent product batch after batch, which is crucial for building a reliable brand reputation.

Enhanced Flavor and Aroma Profile

  • Taste: By eliminating undesired compounds that can introduce bitterness or off-flavors, the extracts retain their authentic taste profile.
  • Aroma: Certain impurities can mask or distort the natural aroma of the extracts. CRC ensures that the aromatic compounds remain unhampered, offering a true representation of the plant's essence.

Components of a Color Remediation Setup

A CRC is an advanced filtration system tailored to refine cannabis and hemp extracts by removing undesired colors, odors, and impurities. Understanding the core components of a CRC is pivotal for achieving optimal filtration and product purity. 

Here's a breakdown of its integral parts:

Column Body

This is the primary chamber where the filtration process occurs. It's typically made of stainless steel or glass, designed to withstand varying pressures. The column body should be transparent or have a sight glass, allowing operators to monitor the process.

Inlet and Outlet Ports

These ports are where the extract enters and exits the column, respectively. They're equipped with valves to control flow rates and ensure consistent processing.

Adsorbent Media Chamber

Within the column body is a chamber or section specifically for holding the adsorbent materials like silica gel, activated carbon, activated bleaching earth, and activated alumina. This chamber ensures that the extract interacts optimally with these materials for effective remediation.

Packing Materials

These are inert materials like glass beads or stainless steel mesh screens used to support the adsorbent media, preventing it from getting compressed and ensuring an even flow of the extract through the column.

Pressure Gauge

Attached to the column, the pressure gauge monitors the internal pressure during the process. It's essential to keep an eye on this to avoid overpressurizing the column, which can be hazardous.

Flow Meter

This component measures the rate at which the extract is passing through the CRC. Maintaining the right flow rate is crucial to ensure effective contact time between the extract and the adsorbent media.

End Caps

These are placed at both ends of the column to seal it. They often have integrated gaskets to ensure airtightness and prevent leaks during the filtration process.

Safety Valve

For added safety, many CRCs include a relief valve. In the event of excessive pressure buildup, this valve releases the pressure, preventing potential equipment damage or accidents.

Step-by-Step Guide to Ethanol Extraction with CRC

Combining the ethanol extraction method with CRC results in a refined end product that captures the best of both techniques. To integrate these processes seamlessly, it's important to understand the step-by-step approach. 

Let’s walk through the entire workflow, from cannabis biomass preparation to the final product collection.

Preparing the Biomass

  • Drying: Ensure the plant material is properly dried, reducing moisture content to optimal levels. This prevents water-soluble impurities from being extracted.
  • Milling: Break down the plant material into smaller pieces to increase the surface area, ensuring a more efficient extraction.

Ethanol Extraction Process: Basics

  • Soaking: Immerse the ground biomass in ethanol. The duration will depend on the desired compound profile and extraction efficiency.
  • Stripping: During this phase, the ethanol permeates the plant cells and dissolves desirable compounds like cannabinoids and terpenes.
  • Separation: Use filtration or a centrifuge to separate the ethanol solution (now containing the desired compounds) from the solid plant matter.

Setting Up the CRC

  • Selection of Adsorbent Media: Depending on the specific impurities you aim to target, choose a combination of adsorbent materials, such as activated carbon, silica gel, and clay.
  • Packing the Column: Pack the column with your chosen adsorbent media, ensuring it's uniformly distributed to prevent channeling and ensuring optimal contact with the passing extract.

Running the Extract Through CRC

  • Pre-Filtering: Before introducing the extract into the CRC, consider pre-filtering it to remove larger particulate matter.
  • Introducing the Extract: Slowly run the ethanol extract through the packed CRC. Monitor pressure and flow rates to ensure the extract interacts sufficiently with the adsorbent media.

Collecting the Refined Extract

  • Draining: After the extract has passed through the CRC, collect the refined extract. It should be noticeably clearer and free from many of the impurities present before CRC treatment.
  • Evaporation: To obtain the concentrated extract, evaporate the remaining ethanol using equipment like rotary evaporators.

Testing the Final Product

  • Laboratory Analysis: It's crucial to test the final product for potency, purity, and profile. Ensure it's free from residual solvents and meets all industry standards and regulations.

Factors Influencing the Effectiveness of CRC

The CRC has transformed the landscape of ethanol extraction, offering a refined touch to the process. However, the effectiveness of CRC is not universal. Several factors can influence its performance, determining the clarity, purity, and overall quality of the resultant extract.

Choice of Adsorbent Media

  • Specificity: Each adsorbent media (like silica gel, activated carbon, or clay) has its unique properties. The choice depends on which compounds or impurities you aim to target.
  • Quality: The purity and quality of the adsorbent materials play a significant role. Impure or sub-standard media can introduce contaminants or fail to remove undesired compounds effectively.

Packing Technique of the Column

  • Uniformity: The column should be uniformly packed to ensure even flow and prevent the formation of channels. Channeling can lead to reduced contact time between the extract and the media, compromising remediation efficiency.
  • Density: Overpacking or underpacking the column can affect flow rates and the overall effectiveness of the color remediation process.

Flow Rate of the Extract

  • Contact Time: The rate at which the extract flows through the CRC determines its contact time with the adsorbent media. With traditional methods, if the flow rate is too fast, there might be inadequate interaction; too slow, and it could lead to over-adsorption, affecting the product's profile.
    • Precision Flow Control with Swagelok Needle Valve: While granular media, such as Media Bros’, precision control is crucial. The Swagelok needle valve offers this accuracy, allowing operators to adjust flow rates on the fly, ensuring optimal interaction between the extract and the media.

    Temperature Conditions

    • Adsorbent Efficiency: Some adsorbent media might work more efficiently at specific temperatures. Ensuring optimal temperature conditions can enhance the remediation process.
    • Viscosity of Extract: Temperature can influence the viscosity of the ethanol extract, which in turn affects how it interacts with the adsorbent media within the CRC.

    Pre-Treatment of the Extract

    • Filtration: Pre-filtering the extract to remove larger particulate matter can enhance the CRC's effectiveness by preventing clogging and ensuring smooth flow.
    • Quality of Initial Extract: The better the quality of the initial ethanol extract, the less aggressive the media you need to use, leading to more efficient remediation.

    Maintenance and Condition of the CRC

    • Regular Cleaning: Over time, the adsorbent media can become saturated with impurities. Regular cleaning or replacing of the media is crucial for optimal performance.
    • Equipment Integrity: Ensuring the CRC's structural integrity (no leaks, proper seals, etc.) ensures consistent and reliable operation.

    Challenges and Limitations of Traditional Filter Media: How Media Bros Can Help

    The integration of CRC technology with ethanol extraction has undeniably brought new dimensions to the cannabis industry. 

    However, it’s essential to understand that while some challenges and limitations are associated with older methods and technologies, many of these concerns have been addressed by innovative solutions. 

    Media Bros, for instance, has evolved to counteract traditional challenges, offering more streamlined and efficient solutions for cannabis processors.

    Initial Costs

    • Setup Expenditure: In the past, integrating CRC into an extraction setup was perceived as a significant cost, factoring in columns, absorbent media, and new equipment. However Media Bros offers filter media that can be used inline with extraction equipment, making the transition smooth and cost-effective.

    Learning Curve

    • Technical Nuance: While CRC traditionally required in-depth knowledge, Media Bros’ inline CRC is refreshingly straightforward. They even offer recommended blends and prompt support for any application concerns, minimizing the usual complexities.
    • Trial and Error: While some producers might initially face challenges such as channeling, using the right equipment and media, especially solutions offered by Media Bros, eliminates such issues and streamlines the process.

    Potential for Over-Processing

    • Stripping Beneficial Compounds: An overly aggressive CRC process can inadvertently remove not only impurities but also beneficial compounds like terpenes, affecting the extract's flavor profile and therapeutic attributes. However, Media Bros offers expert consultation to guide customers on the ideal level of "aggressiveness" ensuring optimal extract quality without compromising beneficial compounds.
    • Balance: Achieving the right balance between clarity and preserving the integrity of the extract is crucial. Over-reliance on CRC can lead to a product that, while visually appealing, lacks depth and complexity.

    Maintenance

    • Equipment Upkeep: Regular cleaning, maintenance, and potential replacements of CRC columns and associated equipment can add to operational overheads. It's worth noting that challenges with upkeep are more pronounced with materials like B80. However, with quality media like those offered by Media Bros, such challenges can be significantly minimized.

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    Media Bros’ CRC Media Solutions for Ethanol Extraction

    Amid the sea of solutions in the cannabis extraction arena, certain products have emerged as pioneers in delivering optimal results, and Media Bros’ offerings are leading the way.. In the intricate process of ethanol extraction, using the right CRC media is critical. Here's a snapshot of the game-changing solutions that set the gold standard:

    • CRAC™ - Activated Carbon: This top-shelf, food-grade carbon powder is engineered exclusively for BHO and ethanol extraction. Its sifted nature minimizes contamination risks, while its pH-neutral double activation maximizes surface potential. CRAC™ is indispensable for producing pristine cannabis extracts. To enhance your extraction process, pair it with Media Bros’ Activated Alumina as an alumina media filter bed.
    • Activated Alumina: A granular activated alumina filtration aid, it's famed for removing saponins and bolstering clarity. Apart from acting as a winterization filtration aid, it also facilitates inline drying and pairs well with all Media Bros media products.
    • G-CRAC™ - Activated Carbon: G-CRAC™ is a more granular variant of CRAC™, making it ideal for inline processing. Whether you're battling smoke residues, pesticides, or heavy metals, G-CRAC™ is your go-to solution.
    • Silica Gel 60A: This is your match for DIY chromatography applications. Especially beneficial for inline hydrocarbon CRC, it's geared for those aiming for top-notch extraction quality.
    • PR-O Filter Media: Fashioned from organic coconut carbon, PR-O is the epitome of natural efficacy. Not only does it adeptly eradicate impurities, but it also ensures that the final product stands out in clarity and appeal.
    • PR-W Filter Media: PR-W brings the potency of coconut-activated carbon to your extraction process. This renewable, organic solution guarantees a refined, high-quality final product, with the bonus of being environmentally friendly.

    Each of these solutions comes with a unique set of attributes, tailored for specific extraction needs. From the type of extraction solvent they're compatible with, to their flow rates, and their specialty in dealing with contaminants – they offer a comprehensive toolkit for any extractor aiming for excellence.

    Whether you're dealing with older biomass or aiming for the purity of fresh frozen extracts, these products have got you covered. With certifications from NSF and approvals from FDA, the commitment to quality is top of mind.

    Enhancing Extraction Purity

    The integration of the CRC into ethanol extraction has ushered in a new era of precision and refinement in cannabis and hemp extraction. With its ability to enhance extracts' purity, clarity, and overall quality, CRC has proven itself to be more than just a passing trend – it's a transformative tool with long-lasting implications.

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