Why is 95% Ethanol Used in Plant Extraction?

Why is 95% Ethanol Used in Plant Extraction?

What is Plant Extraction?

Plant extraction commonly uses ethanol and is a process that has the objective of extracting certain chemical compounds from a specific plant. In the past, plant extractions have been done with butane, because of its desirable properties—it is a non-polar solvent, which makes it easier for certain compounds to be extracted without the simultaneous extraction of unwanted compounds like chlorophyll. However, butane is extremely flammable, so it can be very dangerous if the procedure is done incorrectly or goes wrong.   

95% (190 proof) ethanol is used in plant extractions for a few reasons. For one, it is GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA, and it is a common additive in a variety of products in day-to-day life from drinking alcohols to pharmaceuticals. It is also easily accessible since it is safe for alcohol. Ethanol can be found at stores like Walmart and online markets. In addition, it is reliable and has been shown to produce consistently high-quality results when used for extraction. 

What is Ethanol? 

Also known in the chemical world as ethyl alcohol or grain alcohol, is an alcohol that is derived from ethane, a colorless, odorless gas. Ethane is transformed into ethanol when a hydroxyl group is added, changing the compound from C2H6 to C2H6O.  

Ethanol is colorless liquid alcohol with a distinctive, characteristic smell and taste. This type of alcohol is completely miscible with water, meaning that the two can form an azeotropic mixture. It is also biodegradable and highly flammable. It can potentially be harmful if vapors are inhaled or if it is ingested.  

How Are Other Types Different Than 95% Ethanol? 

95% ethanol is a solution composed of 95% alcohol and about 5% water. This is the highest grade of ethanol that can be produced through distillation, because of the azeotrope that ethanol and water form together. Another common grade of ethanol is absolute ethanol or 99-100%. Absolute ethanol is more useful in processes that need to avoid any water, as some substances tend to react with water instead of the desired compound. Denatured ethanol mixtures usually have 50% or less ethanol in them, making them very unsuitable for chemical reactions.  

Steps for 95% Ethanol Plant Extraction: 

Extracting plant compounds with ethanol is a very safe and efficient process. It consists of 3 basic steps: 

  1. Combine the plant with ethanol. The plant should be completely submerged in the alcohol. Leave it to soak in a freezer for 24 hours—this will ensure the complete separation of soluble compounds within the plant material. 
  1. Remove all plant material. Use a vacuum filtration system to achieve filtration. After all plant material has been removed, a solution of ethanol and plant extract will be left. 
  1. Separate the ethanol and extract. It is recommended that a rotary evaporator be used for this step of the process. A rotary evaporator can lower the boiling point of ethanol, with the help of a vacuum, to speed up the evaporation process. The remaining plant extract will be completely ethanol-free and ready for use. 

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