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All the advantages of supercritical CO2 as a solvent according to experts

Would you like to discover the advantages of supercritical CO2 but want to understand first what a supercritical fluid is? Have you read that the most common supercritical fluids are carbon dioxide and water and want to know about the technique of supercritical fluid extraction and its key advantages? Or are you simply curious to learn about SFE (supercritical CO2 extraction) and the economic, technical, and political reasons that make this technology the most effective and efficient?

Here’s an article that will explain in detail all the advantages of supercritical CO2.

Take a few minutes to read this article from Separeco, an Italian company specialized in manufacturing machines and systems for extracting compounds and natural materials using supercritical CO2 technology. Together, we’ll first explore what a supercritical fluid is and why supercritical fluid extraction is the best available technique today as it ensures contamination-free extracts. Additionally, we’ll see how this technology is the most versatile and eco-friendly.

If you’re interested in discovering the potential of this technology and its implications for the future, we suggest you keep reading

advantages of supercritical CO2

Supercritical Fluid Technology: An Innovative, Versatile, and Eco-friendly Technology

The first question that must be answered is: what is a supercritical fluid. A supercritical fluid is any substance at a temperature and pressure above its critical point. CO2 is the most used fluid. It can diffuse through solids like a gas, and dissolve materials like a liquid. In addition, close to the critical point, small changes in pressure or temperature result in large changes in density, allowing many properties of a supercritical fluid to be “fine-tuned”. Supercritical fluids are suitable as a substitute for organic solvents in a range of industrial and laboratory processes. Carbon dioxide and water are the most commonly used supercritical fluids, being used for decaffeination and power generation, respectively.

The supercritical fluid technology is the best extraction technique available today. It is the best not only for the quality of its extracts, but also for the absence of contamination. For this reason, the exhausted matrix (flour, etc. ..) can be used without any fear, which is impossible for solvent extraction. It is the best for its rapid process (hours instead of days) and the presence of a reducing environment in which the oxidation can not occur. Is the best because it is the only true green technology: it does not pollute, there are no solvents or even exhausted to dispose of. It is the best because it is the only one that can transform waste products (which represent only a cost) in high value-added active ingredients that would otherwise be acquired by large pharmaceutical companies at a high price.

For a long time, the poorest technologies (processes with chemical solvents) were more spread. But today we all realize the damage caused by chemical solvents to human health and very soon (in Europe since 2012) they will be banned worldwide. It is clear that today, from an economic standpoint, investment in traditional technologies that use chemical solvents has no future.

The economic, technical and political reasons underlying the choice of the technological proposal are the following:

1) The characteristics of SFE technology are versatility combined with eco-sustainability, acting in the transformation processes on two different levels:

a) in the initial processing phase of vegetable raw materials and in the entire food supply chain. Supercritical CO2 extraction (SFE) works directly on raw materials. Furthermore, waste materials are used as primary products (those parts that are currently disposed of) because with this technology they can be reused as a source of antioxidants.

b) only in final processes for specialized applications (e.g. pesticide: pyrethrum and neem). This is the case of powder coating of the drug, oil and liquids fractionation, concentration of active ingredients or the recovery of waste materials from previous processes.

2) Flexibility offered by SFE technology which can act on a wide range of process conditions and perform different processing phases (even in multi step extraction). This quality can be used both in the extraction and fractionation process, obtaining new productions and products. Examples are: de-oiled flour, numerous extracts in co-extraction, extractions carried out in multiple steps, where extraction conditions are different for each step.

The technical factors that determine the advantages of the SCF system are:

  1. full use of raw materials because supercritical systems produce multiple products at the same time
  2. reduced process times and high productivity and quality achieved in extraction
  3. low cost of CO2
  4. savings in disposal costs necessary with traditional technologies
  5. low numbers of workers

3) High production quality recognized by the whole market.

Characteristics of SFE technology and its position on the market:

  1. it is recognized by the market as a high quality production technology and in some cases without competition (e.g. decaffeination of coffee, lycopene, olive oil with a high content of polyphenols, extracted pesticides)
  2. inclusion in food platforms and higher-end market, conditioning entire supply chains and in processes to reach niche or unique products available only thanks to this technology (e.g. extraction of antibacterials for the proven high efficiency, removal of pesticides, extraction of compounds particularly active in anti-tumor therapies such as lycopene and CBD)

As you can see, supercritical CO2 extraction technology offers significant advantages in the industry and will surely be one of the technologies to focus on for the future, as it provides many benefits that old traditional technologies are no longer able to offer. Product quality, process safety, and sustainability are probably the most important advantages, but they are not the only ones.

If you are a business owner and wish to harness all the potential of CO2 extraction technology, for example, in the cosmetics or pharmaceutical industry, feel free to contact us for consultation. Fill out the form below, and we will be happy to assist you in your process of upgrading extraction processes