Steam-powered Cannabis: Vapor-Static Extraction

The popularity of cannabis extracts is largely due to their high potency of cannabinoids and their quick onset. This makes them quite popular among both medical and adult users looking to medicate quickly or to experience a head-high. The finer details surrounding a new commercial extraction technique, vapor-static extraction, are by in large patented and proprietary. However, the basics of vapor capture technology (VCT) are understood enough for us to be excited about its potential.

Cannabis Processing Isn’t Just For Scaling Anymore

Commercial cannabis labs and manufacturers used to engineer cannabinoid extraction equipment primarily to scale cannabis oil production. Today, there are a growing number of reasons to innovate cannabis extraction that include:

  • Reducing the use of volatile or pressurized solvents.
  • Lowering a facility’s carbon footprint.
  • Increasing the purity of their crude and distilled oil.
  • Preserving the entourage effect of a given strain.
  • Decreasing production costs.

To achieve the goals above, solventless extraction techniques are making a comeback because they are often less expensive, do not require purchasing or purging hydrocarbon or other solvents, and capture more of the flower’s original cannabinoid and terpene profile depending on the method used. That said, many solventless extraction techniques are more difficult to scale than their solvent-based counterparts. And that’s when the innovation begins.

Vapor-static or vapor capture technology (VCT) is currently at the forefront of solventless technology. This method of extracting and distilling cannabis oil uses only physics and water to extract and distill cannabinoids.

Principles of Vapor-Static Cannabis Extraction

Vapor-static extraction is a novel technique that utilizes heat and steam to extract cannabinoids and other beneficial compounds from cannabis plants. Vapor capture technology leverages the boiling points of cannabis compounds to extract them from the plant material. Although companies have a few proprietary ways of accomplishing this, the fundamentals remain similar.

Heating the Biomass

Finely ground cannabis trim or flower is placed in a heating vessel or chamber where it is often exposed to a stream of heated air. The cannabinoids and terpenes are then brought to their boiling points and converted into a vapor, much like when they are vaporized during a dab session or using a dry-flower vaporizer.

vaping cannabis oil
Vapor capture technology simulates the experience of humans smoking and vaping cannabis. When heated, the smoke or vapor enters the lungs, where it is condensed back into tiny particles and then absorbed by the body.

The cannabinoid-rich vapor is then cooled into a non-coalescing fog where it is mingled with water vapor. This cloud carries the vaporized compounds from the plant material where it will later be condensed to form a liquid extract.

Condense the Cannabinoids Into an Oil

This stage of vapor-static extraction becomes a little nuanced depending on which variation of vapor capture technology you are using. Generally, the vapor containing the cannabis compounds flows through a wet electrostatic precipitator. The EPA explains this scientific technique quite well.

An electrostatic precipitator (ESP) removes particles from a gas stream by using electrical energy to charge particles either positively or negatively. The charged particles are then attracted to collector plates carrying the opposite charge.

This device uses electromagnetism to remove charged cannabinoid particles from the vapor or fog, leaving behind contaminants, chlorophyll, and lipids. The cannabinoids are pulled to electrostatic precipitator’s plates, where they are removed as a clean, solvent-free crude or distillate.

static electricity with a balloon
The fundamental principles that drive an electrostatic precipitator can be experienced when you rub a balloon on your clothes. Electrons are transferred to the balloon, giving it a negative charge, which allows it to “stick” to a positively charged wall. The same electromagnetic properties allow vapor extraction systems to pull vaporized cannabinoids from a non-coalescing fog onto electrically charged plates.

Some variations of vapor capture technology use a closed system that prevents cannabinoids and terpenes from being exposed to oxygen. This eliminates the risk of oxidation or degradation throughout the extraction process. Systems using this type of VCT can produce pure, full-spectrum distillates without the need for winterization or additional distillation. And with all VCT systems, there’s no need to recover solvents for reuse or disposal.

Advantages of Vapor-Static Cannabis Extraction

Vapor-static extraction offers several advantages over other traditional extraction methods. One of the most significant is that there is no need for pressurized or hazardous solvents. This lowers the cost to manufacture oil and negates the need for cannabis manufacturers to obtain or build a C1D1 or C1D2 licensed facility.

Since vapor-static extraction only uses heat, water, and electromagnetism, the extract is free from any residual solvents, making it safer for consumption and easier to distill into isolates. Most VCT extractions preserve the full spectrum of the original cannabis strain because the steam consists of both cannabinoids and terpenes. This results in a more potent and flavorful extract that leverages the strain’s entourage effect and has a broader range of therapeutic benefits.

Sustainable Cannabis Extraction

Vapor-static extraction is a highly efficient and earth-friendly extraction technique for the following reasons:

  • It requires less energy and time than other traditional extraction methods.
  • Vapor capture technology can be adapted to industrial-scale production to achieve higher throughputs, unlike most commercial rosin presses.
  • As we’ve mentioned, there are no harsh chemicals or solvents to purge or dispose of.
  • There is no need for highly pressurized CO2 equipment, which is regulated due to the dangers surrounding improper operation.

VCT is still young compared to other, successful extraction techniques, and we’re not recommending you swap your current system out overnight. However, it’s worth a look if you’re interested in evolving your cannabis manufacturing and processing facility in the future.

Limitations of Vapor-Static Cannabis Extraction

Despite its numerous advantages, vapor-static extraction has some limitations. Mainly, VCT is not suitable for extracting all types of compounds. Cannabinoids with lower boiling points and other non-volatile compounds can be more challenging to vaporize.

That said, when adjusted properly, vapor capture technology can capture most of the therapeutic and valuable compounds found in your biomass. And given the volatility of terpenes, VCT is perfect for collecting that precious sauce.

A New Path to Safer, Cleaner Cannabis

Although vapor-static cannabis extraction is new to the marijuana industry, its principles have been studied by scientists for nearly a century. When water evaporates from the surface of the earth, it leaves behind contaminants, forms a non-coalescing fog (clouds), and then the planet’s electromagnetic field encourages attraction between the water molecules. When it rains, you’ve experience nature’s version of vapor static extraction.

We will see if VCT continues to prove itself as a highly efficient technique for cannabis processors to produce clean, full-spectrum cannabis oil. It’s certainly starting to turn some heads as it can produce solvent-free, full-spectrum concentrates that are potent and flavorful. We’re excited to see the continued ingenuity surrounding more efficient, sustainable, safer, and profitable extraction technology.

If you’re interested in learning more about vapor-static extraction or vapor capture technology, be sure to reach out to our team. We’ll be happy to discuss if vapor-static extraction is the right fit for your cannabis operation.

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