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2021 Outlook: The Year Supercritical CO₂ Extraction Meets the Promise of the Technology

Wes Reynolds - Green Mill Supercritical

Anyone assessing the cannabis industry at the end of 2020 understands one thing right away. The industry is in a much better position than expected given the economic, social and political upheavals that have occurred in the previous 10 months. However, a closer look at the industry reveals another critical indicator of its success this year: The popularity of extracts is a key driver of the industry’s success.

It’s no secret that a number of forces have aligned to propel cannabis extraction forward. The growing adoption of CBD by consumers across the country, combined with the consistency, variety and perceived safety of THC extract products, have all contributed to this growth. We expect this growth to continue throughout the coming year for a variety of reasons.

The proliferation of CBD extract products across the country will continue to generate acceptance, while the consumer comfort level with THC edibles, as well as their convenience and flavor choices will further generate growth. In addition, research and development is fueling the industry, and business will be most impacted by the rise of improved technology that redefines the capabilities of precise CO₂ extraction.

Supercritical becomes super essential

2021 will be the year when technologically advanced extraction machines will break down the barrier of entry into the oil production business, and oil quality will be enhanced, allowing more consumers to discover premium products.  The real victors in this will, of course, be artisan extract producers who will discover a newfound ability to make high-quality products that are consistent and safe, and to sell them to consumers at a price that anyone, not just hardcore cannabis connoisseurs, will be willing to pay. This will be accomplished both through equipment improvements and novel CO₂ extraction methods.

CO₂ advocates come out of the closet

At long last, 2021 may just be the year that “solvent agnosticism”—summed up with the mantra “there is no single best solvent”—disappears as the promise of CO₂ is realized through enhanced technology. We’ve been in a period where different solvents were debated on the merits of their business advantages or their capabilities in the lab. But those advantages are rapidly disappearing as extractors push the limits of CO₂ technology, develop unique methods to produce different results and work to eliminate time constraints that kept some producers from utilizing CO₂ technology. In 2021, the advanced features of the most precise extraction systems on the market will become the bare minimum in order for a system to sell.

Technology will drive innovative methodologies 

The constraints of most extraction machines on the market are keeping technicians from exploring some of the interesting peer-reviewed materials that have been published and this has kept the full extent of CO₂’s power behind a veil. In 2021, the right technology used properly will enable improved methodologies to drive innovation, saving time and money while creating better products. 

For example, recent work conducted by extraction innovator Jesse Turner demonstrated a promising new method for extracting THC and THCa that boosts the efficiency of the extraction by orders of magnitude by increasing the target compound’s solubility without also making undesirable materials more soluble. This means operators can produce a pure, clean extract as well as delicate terpenes, very quickly. In short, it’s possible to  have yield, purity, and flexibility, all in one run. Upstart CO₂ extraction operations will realize huge savings in CapEx and OpEx. That, plus faster production, will allow them to get to profitability sooner so their business is sustainable from the beginning and ready to scale. 

2021 will be the year when the true benefit of CO₂ as an extraction solvent is finally realized.

Wes Reynolds is Chief Executive Officer of Green Mill Supercritical, which is pushing cannabis CO₂ extraction beyond known limits, developing machinery that promises the most control over pressure, temperature and flow rate of any extraction system on the market today.