What Is Closed-Loop Extraction? A Look at Process, Safety & Benefits

The rise of cannabis concentrates has created a need for increasingly powerful, automated, and safe industrial-grade extraction equipment for botanicals. While manufacturers employ a variety of solvent-based and solventless extraction techniques to create cannabis concentrates, light hydrocarbon extraction, i.e. BHO, is the most efficient method.

Modern BHO extraction systems don't just comply with building and fire codes, they help businesses scale operations and meet growing demand for pure and flavorful full-spectrum extracts.

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Closed-Loop Extraction Systems

Closed-loop extraction systems are the most state-of-the-art and safe systems for creating all types of cannabis concentrates, including shatter, crumble, live resin, and isolates.

In a laboratory-grade setting with trained technicians, closed-loop equipment maintains flammable solvents inside the system at all times to reduce air exposure. Amateur extractors often use open-blasting techniques, which are illegal and can lead to deadly explosions as the presence of flammable butane in the air reacts with an open flame.

Generally, professional light hydrocarbon (BHO) extraction begins when cannabis is placed into an extraction tube. A pressurized solvent tank passes cleaned, tasteless, scentless butane through the plant material to strip its trichomes and a full range of cannabis compounds. Light hydrocarbon is the perfect key to unlocking and releasing all potential cannabinoids and terpenes.

These systems use pressure vessels, pharmaceutical piping, pumps, and pneumatically actuated valves to store and recover the solvent for reuse. A post-extraction process completely removes the residual butane from the final product.

Enclosures and Fire Safety Features

Closed-loop systems that use hazardous materials such as butane or propane for extraction and post-processing must undergo a rigorous third-party peer-review process to be approved for cannabis extraction purposes. For the best performance, manufacturers go with equipment that has been designed to meet state, national (NFPA), and international fire codes (ICC), as well as other safety codes (e.g. ASME).

Approved closed-loop systems are placed in Class 1, Division 1 enclosures that monitor the air for any contaminants using a continuous gas detection system. In the case of a butane leak above a certain threshold, an alert informs the operator of the presence of the odorless and colorless gas. Automated systems turn off all processes and close the valves to contain the problem while the ventilation fans switch to "purge mode" to replace the hazardous vapor with fresh air.

Benefits of Full Automation

Some innovative closed-loop systems, such as the IO Extractor, are fully automated so that operators don't have to be in the room with the machine at all during the majority of its run time operation. Automated light hydrocarbon extraction equipment can process up to 25 pounds per hour of cannabis with the push of a button, which is ideal for manufacturers that want to make full-spectrum concentrates.

While having access to support is crucial to fully optimize the machine, operators don't need months of training to use fully automated extraction equipment. Pre-programmed parameters on pressures and temperatures can be specific to a strain and work without interference. Furthermore, fully automated closed-loop extraction systems can reduce downtime for manufacturers by scheduling automated cleaning processes during off-hours.

Fully-automated systems provide comprehensive data-logging to record different variables such as temperatures, pressures, and run time for careful analysis. Detailed analytics can help manufacturers fine-tune their operations to reduce issues and improve processes for different strains and extract types.

Automated light hydrocarbon extraction equipment delivers unparalleled throughput, quality, and versatility for creating the most aromatic, potent, and cleanest high-terpene full-spectrum extracts. Huge increases in demand for these products and the resulting regulatory and safety restrictions associated with large scale production are putting fully automated closed-loop systems in high demand, shifting away from manual and semi-automatic equipment systems.

Learn more about the IO Extractor.

IO Extractor

IO Extractor Equipment

Cut Labor Costs
Automated controls eliminate weeks or months of apprenticeship training required for manually controlled hydrocarbon systems.

Eliminate Operator Error
Pre-programmed recipe-monitoring system checks pressures and temperatures hundreds of times per second to remove risk of operator error.

Increase Capacity
Process 18 pounds of dried plant material or 25 pounds of fresh-frozen material per run. Single operator can process 400 pounds of biomass in a single day.

Improve Run Time
50-minute average run time with a 10-minute soak. Run-to-run changeover times of two minutes.

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