High-Volume Extraction



With harvest imminent, many businesses are examining extraction systems that have the capacity to process large volumes of biomass. When considering options to deal with these quantities, ethanol extraction tends to be top-of-mind. Ethanol is well known for its ability to perform extractions with short run-times, meaning more batches per day and more volume processed. However, with advances in technology and manufacturing practices, extraction using CO2 has become part of the high-volume conversation.

In the past, CO2 hasn't been a viable option due to the size of the systems available. Prior to the last two years, most CO2 extraction systems were limited to 40L or less. In those cases, to manage high-volume extraction, processors would require fleets of systems and the people to operate them. This could be inefficient and cost prohibitive.

As the industry has progressed, companies have started to manufacture larger, industrial-scale systems to meet the needs of extractors. Where the Vitalis Q-90 system was once considered massive in CO2 extraction, the R-400 series system has become the focus for many new customers. Working with OEMs like Vitalis, processors are also able to build custom, factory-scale systems to meet their needs. As technology and innovation moves forward, standard production systems with even greater capacity are on the drawing board, reducing the need for multi-unit deployments.

Here are a few more reasons why CO2 should be top-of-list when considering high-volume extraction.


CO2 extraction equipment has a reputation for being expensive. When looking at the initial capital expenditure, these systems tend to be higher on the cost scale than many other options, and that expense increases as higher capacities are required. Unfortunately, the true affordability of CO2 extraction can be missed if consideration is only given to equipment acquisition cost.

While ethanol extraction equipment can be relatively inexpensive compared to CO2 solutions, the ongoing costs to replenish solvent are substantial. As well as the expense necessary to keep solvent in stock, additional engineering bills - necessary to ensure facilities meet regulations for working with flammable and explosive substances - can drive the overall cost of ethanol extraction into the millions.

For high-volume processing requirements, the cost of solvent increases relative to capacity. The more biomass to be processed, the more solvent required. The cost-per-litre of ethanol is certainly higher than CO2, and this is a standard operating cost that is required for as long as extraction processing is to continue. CO2 equipment can be expensive to obtain, but ethanol is expensive forever.

CO2 is an inexpensive solvent to keep stocked, and extraction facilities typically require little to no specific engineering in order to pass safety inspection. At pennies-per-litre, the operating expense to keep CO2 stocked is far more affordable than ethanol alternatives. Despite the increase in solvent required to process large volumes, the minimal rise in cost is far easier for businesses to handle. When combining both capital expense and operating expense, CO2 is much more attractive from a dollars and cents investment perspective.


GMP (Good Manufacturing Practice) considerations can also increase the operating expense for ethanol extraction systems. GMP requires that substances that come into contact with the product do not alter the product quality. While the solvent power of ethanol makes it a great choice for extraction, it also makes it extremely difficult to avoid batch-to-batch contamination while re-using ethanol for multiple runs. Even with a wealth of costly post-processing equipment, recovered ethanol will typically contain residuals of the compounds extracted from the previous run. Further, validating ethanol as clean and free of contamination could be a large challenge.

To achieve GMP compliance, ethanol processors may have to replace the solvent for each extraction batch, adding hazardous waste disposal as an additional operating expense. Even in situations where solvent recovery and re-use is possible the operating expense is high. In the case of high-volume extractions, where the solvent would need to be replaced after each run, the costs necessary to meet GMP requirements would be astronomical and unfeasible for many companies.


As well as cost considerations, using CO2 systems for high-volume extraction also provides one significant advantage: selectivity. The tuneability of CO2 as a solvent has made it a popular choice for processors wanting to make a wide variety of products. The ability of CO2 to extract specific target compounds based on the parameters of extraction is one of its most beneficial attributes. Using it for extractions of large quantities of biomass doesn't diminish this ability.

With the investment necessary for high-volume extractions - from cultivation and cost of biomass to equipment and facility purchases - a sudden shift in the market from one type of product to another can spell disaster for processors that can't adapt. With CO2, adapting to market changes can be as straightforward as changing the extraction parameters, and making minor changes to post-processing practices. Even without significant market changes, using CO2 provides the opportunity for processors to make a wider spectrum of end products and ensures overall business stability and longevity.


Given the advantages CO2 brings to the extraction lab, using it for high-volume extractions makes sense. With the capacity of systems getting larger and larger, the ability to use it as a go-to process is getting more affordable and efficient for processors. As well, new markets in Europe, where GMP is the standard, forcing companies to examine CO2 as an option in order to gain access.

Where ethanol was once the method of choice, examination of the overall cost of operation reveals a process that can create financial challenges and risk to processing companies. Further, the challenge required of ethanol processes to feasibly meet GMP standards can see companies shut out of a burgeoning market entirely. CO2, having recently closed the gap on capacity, and being far more affordable in the long run, has become an attractive option for large volume operations. With the summer harvest season, the time is right to investigate all that CO2 extraction has to offer.

If you’d like more information or solutions to process large volumes of biomass, give our Accounts team a call. With high-capacity extraction systems, and end-to-end ancillary services available, the Vitalis team can help you maximize profits and efficiency in your extraction efforts.

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