What Are CO2 Extracts? – Supercritical Extraction of Essential Oils

In this basic introduction guide, we explained CO2 Extracts and its supercritical CO2 extraction in a simple way. We will answer that is this method better than other extraction methods of essential oils. If you are an essential oil enthusiast, you should absolutely read this guide because co2 extraction is the new trend in our niche.

This article focuses on only the extraction of essential oils since they are the most widely used aromatic substances which use this process.

What are CO2 Extracts?

In the simplest terms, CO2 Extracts are just essential oils that are derived from their sources using the CO2 extraction method, where liquid Carbon Dioxide is used as a solvent.

In the method, carbon dioxide (CO2) is liquified under high pressure, which acts as a solvent. This solvent dissolve the aromatic compounds present in the natural sources. After that, CO2 is transformed back into gas form and what remains is our CO2 Extracted Oil.

These are now becoming quite famous in the flavor & fragrances industry and slowly growing their popularity in the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics industry. There are some industries where this method has become the standard. Businesses that look for CO2 Extracts in bulk often have some queries regarding them. Since this process is not so common before, we thought of providing some useful information in this article.

How does CO2 Extraction work?

There are many ways to extract something from organic sources like plants. Essential oils are also extracted from such natural things. They are obtained from flowers, barks, leaves, seeds, usually. The common methods to extract the oil from them are Steam Distillation, Solvent Extraction, and Supercritical CO2 Extraction.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction of Essential Oils
A Still of Supercritical CO2 Extractor

The process starts with putting our raw material in a chamber. Then pressurized carbon dioxide is injected in it. This pressurized CO2 is now in a ‘supercritical’ state (scientifically, at a temperature and pressure above its ‘critical point’) where it has properties of both liquid and gas. In this state, carbon dioxide is safe and acts as a solvent that draws out oils from the organic raw material. After extraction is over, pressure is released making the carbon dioxide return back to the gaseous state.

Are CO2 Extracts better than Other Essential Oils?

The reason what CO2 extracts are becoming more popular than other essential oils (derived using other methods) is because of purity. Carbon dioxide extraction results in a purer form of oil as compared to others. We have listed some of its benefits below:

  • More Purity & Non-Toxic: In absolutes, the solvent used (like hexane) might leave some residues behind. These solvents can be toxic for our body. But in CO2 extraction, the liquid goes back to gaseous state, leaving no traces in the resulting product.
  • More Yield: The oil extracted is more as compared to other methods because of a cleaner process. They also have a better shelf-life.
  • No Heat Involved: Also, unlike steam distillation, no heat is involved in this process which is a good thing because heat can damage the raw ingredients and affect the chemistry of oils. And they are even better than cold-pressed essential oils because, in cold pressing, some heat can generate due to friction.

One more important fact is some cases, the color of extracted oil from this process is different than others. This is because carbon dioxide solvent also pulls some other natural constituents from the source. Thus, the CO2 extracted oil’s chemistry is closer to the original plant and hence, superior in purity and naturalness.  This method is also considered more environment-friendly than others.

However, it also has some downsides. The cost of manufacturing is higher and more technical knowledge is required. This results in a slightly higher price than others. Also, while CO2 Extraction gives a purer essential oil, there are studies still in the research stage to confirm that it has the same benefits as others.

So, this is our simple guide to CO2 Extracts and Supercritical CO2 Extraction process. We tried to answer each basic question that you might have about it. In most cases, CO2 extraction gives better quality, so we recommend to choose them in your products.