What Should Cannabis Extraction Equipment Cost?

For laboratories planning on entering the cannabis industry in California, finding the best cannabis extraction equipment is a complex issue. Each method of producing cannabis extracts has specific strengths, weaknesses, constraints, and associated costs. In fact, cannabis extract is often the product with the highest profit margin for cannabis laboratories. 

The cannabis extraction equipment cost may be the most salient factor to consider when starting a laboratory because it can make the difference between a lab being profitable or being in the red. But which extraction methods are best, and which are the most cost-effective when considering equipping your cannabis lab? 

Carbon Dioxide Extraction Equipment

Carbon dioxide extraction equipment utilizes a pressurized CO2 mixture to knock cannabinoids out of the cannabis’ plant tissue matrix in which they naturally reside. Unlike other extraction methods, CO2 extraction equipment can be used as the one-stop method for turning bulked cannabis flower into saleable concentrates. This makes it a highly tempting option for labs seeking to keep costs low, as it does not require additional chemical processing. 

As an extraction method, CO2-based extraction has several advantages, including:

       Safe operation

       Low reagent costs

       Configurable specificity for individual cannabinoids

       Easy combination with other extraction methods

These advantages don’t tell the whole story, however. While the reagent costs of operating CO2-based extraction machines are low, as CO2 is relatively inexpensive, the energy costs are high due to the mechanical energy required to create sufficient pressure in the gas to extract cannabinoids. 

Furthermore, while the output of CO2-based extraction machines does not necessarily require additional purification or processing before it is ready for human consumption, there may be a tradeoff between isolating one set of cannabinoids with high efficiency at the expense of another set. This may make it more costly to create extracts with a comprehensive repertoire of cannabinoids compared to what is naturally present in the cannabis used as the starting material. 

Thus, typically CO2 extraction equipment is extremely expensive per unit of biomass which they can process at a single time. Some CO2-based extraction machines are as expensive as $450,000, whereas others with smaller scale and less automation can be as low as $45,000. Importantly, the cost and also the efficacy of CO2-based cannabis extraction units varies as a result of the maximum pressure output that each machine is capable of. High-end extraction machines capable of 45000 psi of pressure will be significantly more expensive to purchase, but they will also perform the extraction significantly faster. 
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Alcohol Extraction Equipment

Alcohol extraction equipment relies on the fact that alcohol-class chemicals are solvents which also evaporate rapidly. In alcohol extraction, cannabis flowers are soaked in alcohol at room temperature. Upon exposing the cannabis flower to alcohol, the cannabinoids are isolated from the plant matter and dissolved into the liquid solution. Then, when the liquid alcohol evaporates, it takes the cannabinoids along with it, leaving behind the plant matter. Finally, the evaporated alcohol is exposed to a temperature which makes the dissolved cannabinoids condense. The resulting cannabinoid concentrate is then dried into a solid and washed with water to remove any excess alcohol which did not evaporate.

While this process may sound complicated, alcohol extraction of cannabinoids is relatively inexpensive. Reagent-grade alcohol is cheap and ubiquitous, and the extraction machines themselves can cost as little as $4000. The downside of alcohol extraction is that it is highly inefficient. 

Alcohol extraction is highly inefficient because many of the cannabinoids present in the source material are likely to remain locked in the plant matrix rather than extracted. Depending on the exact alcohol extraction technique, as many as 60% of the cannabinoids may remain in the flower. This means that while the absolute costs of using alcohol extraction are low, there is a major additional cost in terms of the wasted cannabinoids left behind. Especially for laboratories who rely on bulk cannabis plant purchases as a cost-saving measure, using alcohol extraction may be a difficult way to identify the source of a thin margin on concentrates. 

Hydrocarbon Extraction Equipment

Hydrocarbon extraction equipment is fundamentally similar to alcohol extraction equipment in the sense that it relies on the solvent and evaporative properties of certain chemicals to dissolve cannabinoids while leaving plant matter behind. Unlike alcohol extraction equipment, however, hydrocarbon extraction equipment has a significantly higher cannabinoid extraction efficiency. This means that hydrocarbon extraction equipment is more cost effective in terms of cannabinoids extracted per kilogram of cannabis flower. 

Hydrocarbon extraction equipment has a few additional caveats compared to alcohol extraction, however. These caveats include:

Additional safety precautions to secure highly flammable hydrocarbons in storage

More stringent purification efforts required to remove excess solvents 

Toxicity of the hydrocarbons

Furthermore, hydrocarbon extraction equipment is nearly as expensive as CO2 extraction equipment. An industrial-scale butane-based hydrocarbon extractor can cost as much as $189,000. Thankfully, hydrocarbons like butane are relatively inexpensive to purchase. Reagent costs aren’t the only concern, however: most hydrocarbon extraction machines require more time spent purifying and washing the concentrate to remove any excess hydrocarbons than alcohol extraction machines, so labor costs tend to be higher as well. 

Which Cannabis Extraction Equipment Cost Is Most Worth It?

In terms of both the operating costs and the startup costs, alcohol extraction equipment is significantly less expensive than hydrocarbon or CO2 extraction equipment. This means that labs approaching the issue of extraction equipment from a cost basis alone will find that alcohol extraction machines are the most favorable even if the concentrates which they produce are not as pure as the alternative methods. If quality is as important as affordability, however, your California cannabis lab should be looking at either hydrocarbon extraction equipment or CO2 extraction equipment. 

No matter which set of extraction equipment is the right fit for a lab’s scale and product mixture, maintaining a steady inventory of the necessary reagents is essential. Whether the lab needs butane, isopropanol, or CO2, the extraction process is highly resource intensive, and any disruption to the supply chain implies significant revenue losses. Thus, laboratories seeking to jumpstart their cannabis extraction operations must consider partnering with an experienced supplier to ensure that they have access to the lowest cost and highest quality reagents which are necessary for operating cannabis extraction machinery at scale. 

For over 40 years, Lab Pro has been committed to providing equipment and reagents for companies which test consumer products in California and worldwide. Come visit the biggest Lab Supply showroom in California, or contact us online or at 888-452-2776.