What is Supercritical Extraction?

Posted on October 20th, 2021 to Education

At Hunger Mountain, we’re open about how we create our products, and supercritical CO2 extraction plays a big role in that. In truth, hemp processed with this type of equipment yields superior extracts compared to some other extraction processes. Let’s take a closer look at the supercritical extraction process, how it works, and why we rely on it for our extracts.

What is supercritical CO2 extraction?

Supercritical CO2 extraction is the process of separating components in plant matter from the plant matter itself or from other components by utilizing supercritical carbon dioxide. In the case of cannabis, supercritical extraction enables a processor to extract the plant’s valuable cannabinoids and terpenes. Those compounds can then be used in an especially pure state to create products, such as CBD oils and tinctures or cannabinoid-infused edibles and topical products.

What is supercritical fluid extraction used for?

Supercritical CO2 extraction is most widely recognized for its use in the cannabis industry. Retaining the quality of the plant compounds is super important to the quality of the end user’s experience. However, the cannabis industry is not the only industry that makes use of this technology. Supercritical extraction is used in a multitude of botanical extraction processes. A few other ways supercritical extraction technology is used include:

  • Extracting fragrances from flowers
  • Creating decaffeinated coffee
  • Producing certain biofuels
  • Creating certain functional ingredients for food
  • Producing certain pharmaceutical agents

You may also like: How to Extract Terpenes from Hemp

How CO2 Extraction Works

To understand how supercritical extraction works, you have to understand what is meant by the term “supercritical.” Supercritical is a term used to describe a molecule that offers properties of both gas and liquid. Supercritical carbon dioxide, then, has the potential to be gaseous and fill a space, but it can also be held in a liquid state to be used as a solvent. These two properties can be manipulated by adjusting pressure and temperature, so either the gas or liquid forms of CO2 can bind to chosen molecules to capture them.

Extraction systems that utilize the supercritical CO2 process offer the controller the ability to continuously adjust both temperature and air pressure. Ground plant material is placed into an extraction vessel, the CO2 contained in the vessel is affected by temperature and pressure adjustments, and the plant material begins to break down. As the material breaks down, the supercritical CO2 bonds with molecules that make up certain compounds, such as cannabinoids. With the molecules bound to CO2, they can be completely separated from the plant.


Supercritical Extraction Advantages & Disadvantages


Supercritical extraction offers profound advantages for the processes. A few of the most noteworthy advantages include:

  • You get complete control over the process and the ability to manipulate the process to protect different elements
  • CO2 is recyclable, so the method is relatively environmentally friendly
  • CO2 cleanses extracts of contaminants like mold, mildew, and bacteria
  • Higher extract yields with more plant compounds protected
  • No residual solvents are present in the final extracts
  • Plant compounds are less likely to degrade due to exposure to high temperatures or pressure


There really aren’t many disadvantages to supercritical CO2 extraction to speak of, at least not that can’t be offset by profound advantages. The primary downfall for many processes is the cost of the equipment, which can be pretty substantial for a small-scale operation. Another slight disadvantage is the need to analyze and adjust to achieve the right physical environment to protect certain qualities of the extract. Nevertheless, the process affords a superior end product that is far purer and well-protected.

Discover the Difference with Well-Made CBD Extracts

Because we rely on supercritical CO2 extraction, we have the ability to preserve and isolate even the most delicate plant compounds, such as CBG (cannabigerol) and terpenes. In the end, this means you get a product that contains cannabinoids and terpenes that still offer the same high-quality and high bio-function as they did in the plant. Ready to see the difference in supercritical extracted CBD products for yourself? Be sure to check out our collection of full-spectrum CBD products.

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