Terpenes are a compound that gives a large variety of plants their unique aroma and flavors. Over twenty thousand different types of terpenes can be found currently in existence. However, it does not necessarily imply that all terpene extracts have the same concentration.
The quality of terpenes may vary depending on a variety of factors. These variables include the type of nutrients the plant receives and its environmental conditions. Furthermore, the type of extraction method used also plays a vital role in maintaining terpene quality.
While there are several types of extraction methods used for collecting and analyzing terpenes, steam distillation is one of the most common. This article will cover everything there is to know regarding terpene extractions through steam distillation.
What is Steam Distillation?
Steam distillation is a traditional form of terpene extraction which involves low thermal and pressure control. The extraction method can also be used for applications other than isolating terpenes such as petrochemical refining.
The extraction process involves placing the selected specimens over a reservoir of boiling sterile water to create vapor pressure. Once the terpenes are exposed to heat, their molecules begin to release into the air.
This vapor passes through a pipe that leads to a cool condensing chamber which causes it to condense and turn back into a liquid form. Upon liquifying, the oil from the terpenes floats to the top of the water which allows it to be easily collected as extracts.
Terpenes are naturally sensitive to high temperatures and pressure. However, through this controlled method of extraction, the chemical compounds in terpenes can remain intact.
The Benefits of Steam Distillation
Terpene extraction through this traditional method is favored due to the several advantages it can grant. The process is easy and simple to achieve which makes it more favorable among many. Below are some of its key advantages.
Organic and solvent-free products.
Steam distillation requires no additional solvents in extracting terpenes which allow its extracts to remain pure. This process also assures quality control over the final product by keeping the boiling water at a recommended temperature.
Extraction through steam distillation also grants fewer chances of contamination or chemical reactions from other compounds that may affect the concentration of terpene levels.
Easily attainable on larger scales.
Steam distillation is a common but simple extraction method used in terpene and oil production on an industrial scale. This is because this extraction process allows operators to maintain control over the final product at a rapid pace where containment vessels can easily be filled and emptied.
Compared to other methods of extraction, it is also relatively cheaper and more diverse in producing more than one product at a time. As a result, this process makes terpene extraction more attainable when producing large quantities for commercial use.
Does not require subsequent separation processes.
Unlike other extraction methods, steam distillation does not require multiple processes when extracting terpenes. Typically, the process can be done through a single distillation chamber which completes all the necessary steps when collecting extracts.
With fewer steps in the extraction method, there are also fewer chances of errors and other variables that may harm the process. As a result, terpene extracts can be collected at a much faster rate without compromising the concentration levels of the compound.
The Challenges with Steam Distillation
Much like many other methods of extraction, steam distillation also comes with a few key disadvantages. Below are some of the essential factors to note when choosing steam distillation.
Not applicable for all plants
Steam distillation can be applied to isolate terpenes and essential oils from several substances such as plants, twigs, etc. However, it does not imply that this extraction method will be effective on all types of plants and substances.
Certain plants and flowers cannot completely release their essence through steam distillation alone because of how delicate they are. The process is also ineffective on other organic compounds that are non-volatile in steam and contain volatile impurities
More training needed
Steam distillation often requires the use of complex glass equipment such as a biomass flask, condensers, receivers, and hot plates. Those who handle this equipment typically require higher levels of prior training to use and maintain them efficiently over a long period of time.
Steam distillation requires great care when attempting the process due to the high temperature that the compounds are exposed to. Simultaneously, those handling the equipment will also need to know how to handle and maintain the pressurized containers, and extracts that come from them.
Higher operational costs.
Steam distillation can easily cause operational costs to rise due to the higher price of the necessary equipment. Other factors such as maintenance and repair costs may also cause budgetary problems in the future if a product does not sell well.
Additionally, with the relatively high energy usage comes higher carbon emissions, which is something companies these days need to factor into their costs.
Quality production through steam distillation
Maintaining the quality and levels of terpenes can be a difficult task to achieve through some extraction methods. Thankfully, steam distillation exists to make this process more accessible, scalable, and safe as it is one of the simplest methods to attain terpene extracts without harming the quality of the product.
If you’re on the lookout for quality terpenes, then look no further than Medical Terpenes. For everything terpene-related, we’ve got you covered!