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Propane extraction: Basics, Benefits, Cons, Important Points

Propane hash oil extraction

Propane hash oil (PHO) extraction is another efficient but less common extraction method that harnesses the power of propane to separate the cannabinoids and terpenes from the biomass. Generally, the PHO extraction process is conducted at lower temperatures and higher pressures compared to BHO extraction. The process can reduce the undesirable plant matter compounds in the final product.

Propane has a lower boiling point than butane, allowing processors to use slightly lower temperatures during the propane hash oil extraction and purging process. As a result, the process can preserve more of the temperature-sensitive terpenes producing a more flavorful and aromatic concentrate, often bright yellow in color. Generally, this method produces a creamier, oilier, and softer consistency extract compared to the variety in consistencies of butane extractions.

What is Propane Hash Oil?

The technical term for an extraction pulled with propane is propane hash oil (PHO). Because of propane’s natural chemical properties, such as lower boiling point, PHO naturally contains higher cannabinoid and terpene content than its BHO cousin. This means, when done correctly, most PHO concentrates have greater potency and more flavor.

PHO products come in a range of consistencies, although most extracts are of a budder-like consistency. Cannabis budder is a creamy and pliable concentrate.

When To Choose PHO

As far as cost, a PHO extraction is around the middle of the road and is feasible for both larger and smaller operations. Ultimately, PHO is the best way to preserve terpene content in a cannabis concentrate. If you’re looking to create an extract with an emphasis on robust flavor, PHO is likely the best choice for you. However, you may be sacrificing the textural versatility that comes with BHO.

Three important points to note in BHO extraction?

When manufacturers use propane, they must consider a variety of factors throughout the extraction and refining process:

Temperature and Pressure

When using a propane or solvent blend, processors will need to consider the difference in pressure and temperatures needed. Since butane’s boiling point is 30.2º F, extraction technicians are better able to control the amount of vapor pressure needed since reaching that temperature is doable with less cooling power. Since propane’s boiling point is -43.6º F, processors need higher vapor pressure and cooling capabilities to reach sub-zero temperatures.

Solvent Recovery

Propane’s low boiling point allows manufacturers to purge the solvent with very low energy required. The result is a quicker recovery time for propane hash oil extractions compared to BHO extractions. Keep in mind, that when blending solvents, the recovery time is not changed. The recovery process is ultimately dependent on the solvent with the slowest recovery time, which is butane.

Post-Processing

During post-processing, the use of propane can lead to a quicker and better purge of residual solvent in the vacuum oven due to the low heat needed to boil off propane in PHO wax. In addition, the use of propane can result in a higher yield of terpenes (higher propane ratio results in higher terpene concentration in PHO wax), creating a consistency that is more syrupy since terpenes have a lower viscosity than cannabinoids.

10 Benefits of Propane for Cannabis Extraction

  • PHO has an extremely low boiling point (43.6°F /-42°C), making it incredibly useful for preserving the most volatile cannabinoid and terpenes during solvent purging.
  • It offers improved solvent recovery. With the right equipment, it’s possible to recover the majority of propane used during extraction at a much higher rate than other butane-powered systems.
  • It requires less solvent and less time in a vacuum oven like Cascade’s CVO-5 Double Up Vacuum for purging, allowing for a faster turnaround.
  • It doesn’t extract any chlorophyll, creating a lighter, cleaner product.
  • The equipment is more economical. Compared with CO2 and ethanol production, the price point of propane extraction equipment is much more feasible for small to medium-sized facilities.
  • It is safer to work with than non-hydrocarbon solvents. Safely working with propane requires equipment with a lower PSI rating (50 to 150 psi) than CO2 (500o psi) at room temperature.
  • It is especially selective for terpenes. Propane extraction produces more flavorful and aromatic concentrations, like High Terpene Full Spectrum Extracts (HTFSE).
  • It produces a lighter final product. Compared with butane, propane extracts are light yellow to golden in color.
  • It has faster cycle times. Propane extractions enjoy a quicker and more efficient process.
  • The final product tends to crystalize over time. It’s ideal for the production of sugar waxes.

3 Cons of propane extraction

  • Not as versatile in creating a wide range of marijuana products
  • Usually produces a consistency similar to budder, rendering it a one-note solvent
  • Not many savings on price on a small scale and can be more expensive in some cases

BHO Extraction Vs. PHO Extraction

The butane extraction method is one of the most common extraction methods around. It’s also the most similar process to propane THC extraction, but there are some possible advantages to choosing propane over butane.

Both propane and butane are hydrocarbons, meaning they’re both molecules composed entirely of carbon and hydrogen. Since both molecules are highly volatile and explosive, we highly recommend that extractors spend the extra cash on a closed-loop system to safely produce hydrocarbon extracts.

When considering overhead, it’s worth noting that propane is a cheaper gas than butane. It also requires less overall pressure during the manufacturing process, which can help preserve terpenes and flavonoids.

The most significant difference between PHO and BHO comes down to each solvent’s boiling point. PHO has the lower boiling point of the two, which can contribute beneficially to terpene retention. However, with butane extraction, it is easier to form a variety of consistencies like shatter or crumble, while PHO almost always ends up in a budder-like texture.

CO2 Extraction Vs. PHO Extraction

Industry Supercritical CO2 Extraction Machine
Industry Supercritical CO2 Extraction Machine

For years, other industries have used supercritical CO2 to create various extracts, so it seemed a natural fit for marijuana when extraction became popular in the cannabis industry.

Right off the bat, small to mid-sized operations may find the startup costs of investing in a CO2 extraction prohibitory. The main benefit of CO2 extraction is that it’s easier to purge the final product of residual solvents. However, the massive amount of pressure required to keep CO2 in a supercritical state can cause significant damage to terpenes.

CO2 extract
CO2 extract

In comparison, PHO will have a much richer and fuller taste than a CO2 extract. Plus, since PHO has a much lower boiling point than BHO, its purging process is safe and relatively simple.

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