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Understanding the Differences between Supercritical and Subcritical CO2 Extraction

Supercritical CO2 Extraction Machine

Supercritical and subcritical carbon dioxide (CO2) extraction are two popular methods used in the extraction of essential oils, flavors, and other compounds from plant materials. These techniques offer distinct advantages and are widely utilized in industries such as food, pharmaceuticals, and cosmetics.

Supercritical CO2 Extraction

Supercritical CO2 extraction involves utilizing carbon dioxide in its supercritical state, which occurs when the temperature and pressure exceed the critical point (31.1°C and 73.8 atmospheres). In this state, CO2 exhibits properties of both a liquid and a gas, allowing it to effectively dissolve and extract desired compounds from plant materials.

Operating Parameters

Supercritical CO2 extraction requires specific operating parameters to achieve optimal results. The temperature and pressure are carefully controlled to maintain CO2 in its supercritical state. The temperature is typically set between 35°C and 60°C, while pressure ranges from 1000 to 5000 psi. These conditions can be adjusted depending on the target compound and the plant material being processed.

Supercritical Agarwood Oil CO2 extraction machineCO2 Essential Oil Extraction Equipment

4 Advantages of Supercritical CO2 Extraction

  • Selective Extraction: Supercritical CO2 extraction enables selective extraction of desired compounds while leaving behind unwanted components, such as chlorophyll and lipids.
  • Solvent-Free and Environmentally Friendly: CO2 is non-toxic, non-flammable, and readily available, making it a safe and sustainable alternative to traditional solvents.
  • Mild Extraction Conditions: The relatively low temperature and pressure used in supercritical CO2 extraction help preserve the integrity of heat-sensitive compounds, ensuring high-quality extracts.
  • Versatile and Adjustable: The selectivity and adjustability of supercritical CO2 extraction allow for customization of the extraction process to target specific compounds and achieve desired results.

Subcritical CO2 Extraction

Subcritical CO2 extraction, also known as low-pressure CO2 extraction, involves using carbon dioxide at temperatures and pressures below its critical point. Unlike supercritical CO2 extraction, subcritical extraction relies on CO2’s liquid properties to extract compounds from the plant material.

Operating Parameters

Subcritical CO2 extraction is carried out at lower temperatures and pressures compared to supercritical extraction. The temperature typically ranges from 10°C to 25°C, while the pressure is maintained below the critical point (31.1°C and 73.8 atmospheres). These milder conditions make subcritical extraction suitable for delicate plant materials and heat-sensitive compounds.

3 Advantages of Subcritical CO2 Extraction

  • Gentle Extraction: Subcritical CO2 extraction operates at lower temperatures, which minimizes the risk of thermal degradation and preserves delicate flavors and aromas.
  • Enhanced Extraction of Heat-Sensitive Compounds: Subcritical extraction is particularly effective for extracting heat-sensitive compounds that may be lost or altered under higher temperatures.
  • Lesser Extraction of Undesirable Components: Subcritical extraction tends to extract fewer unwanted compounds, such as chlorophyll and waxes, resulting in cleaner and more refined extracts.

Comparison of Supercritical and Subcritical CO2 Extraction

Temperature (°C)35-6010-25
Pressure (psi)1000-5000Below 73.8
Selective ExtractionYesYes
Extraction EfficiencyHighModerate
Preservation of QualityExcellentGood
Extraction of DelicateModerateExcellent


Supercritical and subcritical CO2 extraction are valuable techniques used in various industries for the extraction of essential oils, flavors, and other compounds from plant materials. While supercritical extraction offers high selectivity and versatility, subcritical extraction excels in preserving delicate compounds. The choice between the two methods depends on the specific requirements of the desired extracts and the nature of the plant materials being processed. By understanding their differences, applications, and advantages, industries can make informed decisions to optimize their extraction processes and produce high-quality extracts.