Special Extraction Operations

Over the past two decades, a considerable amount of scientific and applied research effort has been applied to the development of supercritical extraction. Many uses have been found for application of this technology (see the article Supercritical fluid technology). Processes have been developed for extraction using supercritical fluids as the solvent. Carbon dioxide has been chosen as the supercritical fluid because it is nontoxic, less expensive than many organic solvents, leaves no residue of chemicals, and has a molecular weight and reaction behavior that is desirable. The extraction process using C02 is carried out at approximately 35 to 49°C and several thousand pounds per square inch (psi).

Decaffeination of coffee and tea were the first commercial processes carried out using C02 in a supercritical state, reducing initial caffeine content of 0.7 to 3% to as low as 0.02%. This was followed by processes for extracting hops and high-quality flavorings such as vanilla, ginger, paprika, rosemary, sage, and celery. Spices from supercritical extraction have been found to have superior antioxidant properties to some of the synthetic products in current use (5).

There is much interest in replacing hexane for extracting and refining oils from plant, animal, and seed sources. Interest ranges from eliminating the possible carcinogenicity of hexane residues to concentrating desired omega-3 fatty acids in fish oils. As development of critical extraction proceeds, new uses and improved economics of operation should see considerable increase in the commercial application of this technology.

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