by Jessica McKeil, cannabis writer for Agrify
The cannabis industry regularly pits solventless extraction against hydrocarbon extraction. Across social media and online forums, the debate ranges in both directions. But with a global cannabis concentrate market hitting $1.7 billion USD in 2022 (Market and Research), it’s clear that no single extraction technology is driving this remarkable growth.
Instead, a variety of extraction techniques, including solvent-based and solventless, allow producers to navigate an ever-evolving landscape and pivot as needed in response to consumer demands and market prices.
Rather than asking if hydrocarbon or solventless is the better option, it makes more sense to consider both extraction technologies together as a total, harmonious strategy.
Limitations of a Single Extraction Method
According to BDSA, the top three influences over consumer purchasing decisions are high THC content, taste and flavor, and, finally, low price point. When we apply these considerations to the world of cannabis concentrates, no extraction technique captures all three.
These often conflicting consumer demands layered with other industry influences mean that choosing a single extraction technology to apply across all markets is impossible, especially if long-term growth is the goal.
A new market may prefer the low price points and high THC offered by hydrocarbon extraction. A mature market may demand better flavor and allow for the premium pricing of solventless extracts. But there are nuances within even these basic assumptions. Investing in a single extraction technology will limit your ability to scale and survive in an always-evolving marketplace.
Let’s look at the limitations of hydrocarbon extraction. There is an initial barrier to entry thanks to the significant capital expense for not just equipment, but the buildout of extraction booths, and the requirement for highly skilled staff. Additionally, hydrocarbon extraction is an incredibly competitive category, especially in newer markets. While you’ll have the flexibility to process just about any biomass, it’s more challenging to differentiate by quality to capture a premium price point.
Solventless extraction has lower upfront costs and also eliminates the need for highly skilled engineers, architects, and even the fire marshall inspection required for hydrocarbon facilities. But solventless only works with high-quality flower and a limited spectrum of genetics. Should harvest quality not meet expectations, solventless extractors have little recourse to recoup costs. Plus, not all markets can bear the premium price point of rosin extracts.
Limitless Production: Harmony of Solventless and Hydrocarbon
Cannabis, as a global commodity, is unsurprisingly seeing consistent upward growth. Yet the fluctuations within each product category and each regulatory market are much more challenging to predict. No matter what state we look at, consumer tastes evolve, regulatory and taxation burdens change, and available biomass quality remains highly variable.
A dual approach to cannabis extraction with solventless and hydrocarbon technologies guarantees flexibility and offers a type of production insurance to weather ongoing market volatility.
First and foremost, having both extraction options on the table allows brands to make real-time production decisions in response to the available biomass and whether or not price, high THC, or flavor is driving sales.
If high-quality flower is available and the market can bear the premium price point, solventless is the definitive choice. As per BDSA Retail Sales Tracking, “Rosin’s share of dabbable dollar sales has grown significantly in mature markets (CA, CO, OR, MI, IL), from 8% in January 2021 to 16% in October 2022.” Even in markets with price compressions, solventless can help secure market share.
But, not all markets are ready for high-priced premium extractions, Illinois being a primary example. Despite its relative maturity and the recent numbers from BDSA, the uniquely high flower prices mean that rosin concentrates are priced out of reach for most consumers at roughly $120 per gram. In this case, it may make more sense to focus on selling quantity rather than selling premium quality, which is where hydrocarbon offers a smart alternative.
Hydrocarbon is also a winning strategy for dealing with lower-quality biomass. No matter the quality of the input, provided the extraction process is controlled, hydrocarbon extraction in combination with distillation is an effective crop insurance.
Hydrocarbon extraction is more versatile than its solventless counterpart, allowing for a wider variety of finished products. It’s possible to create an entire range of products, including shatters, waxes, resins, sauces, and more. Plus, hydrocarbon-extracted crude oil is more easily formulated into consumer packaged goods like edibles and vape carts.
Building production around a dual-extraction strategy, combining solventless and hydrocarbon techniques, is a proven approach. The industry’s leading multi-state operators, including Curaleaf, Trulieve, and Viola Brands, to name a few, have already broadened their SKU portfolios to offer both hydrocarbon and solventless products. This has allowed them to adapt successfully to changing consumer tastes, market conditions, and other influences, no matter where they operate.
Jessica McKeil is a cannabis writer for Agrify based in British Columbia, Canada. Her focus on cannabis tech, scientific breakthroughs, and extraction has led to bylines with Cannabis & Tech Today, Terpenes and Testing, and Analytical Cannabis, among others. She is the owner and lead-writer of Sea to Sky Content, which provides content and strategy to the industry’s biggest brands including Agrify.
Agrify includes extraction brands Precision Extraction and PurePressure, which provide extraction technologies to help producers create the products customers want. From planning and equipment to installation and training, they help operators build out flexible, nimble extraction strategies geared toward long-term viability.
Precision Extraction offers best-in-class hydrocarbon extraction, ethanol extraction, distillation, and lab equipment plus vacuum ovens by Cascade, along with extraction lab rooms, pods, and design services for any size operation. PurePressure encompasses solventless extraction, from industry leading rosin presses to hash washing equipment and consumables.
Together, Precision Extraction and PurePressure by Agrify offer the full array of options needed to nimbly navigate the volatile cannabis market—no matter operator size. For more information visit https://precisionextraction.com/contact-us/ or https://gopurepressure.com/pages/contact-us.