Extraction of Pure Caffeine

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Extraction of Pure Caffeine


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Pure caffeine is a white powder, and can be extracted from a variety of natural sources. Caffeine extraction is an important industrial process and can be performed using a number of different solvents. Benzene, chloroform, trichloroethylene and dichloromethane have all been used over the years but for reasons of safety, environmental impact, cost and flavor, they have been superseded by the following main methods:

Water extraction

Coffee beans are soaked in water. The water, which contains not only caffeine but also many other compounds which contribute to the flavor of coffee, is then passed through activated charcoal, which removes the caffeine. The water can then be put back with the beans and evaporated dry, leaving decaffeinated coffee with a good flavor. Coffee manufacturers recover the caffeine and resell it for use in soft drinks and medicines like No-Doz.

Supercritical carbon dioxide extraction

Supercritical carbon dioxide is an excellent nonpolar solvent for caffeine (as well as many other organic compounds), and is safer than the organic solvents that are used for caffeine extraction. The extraction process is simple: CO2 is forced through the green coffee beans at temperatures above 31.1 °C and pressures above 73 atm. Under these conditions, CO2 is in a "supercritical" state: it has gaslike properties which allow it to penetrate deep into the beans but also liquid-like properties which dissolve 97-99% of the caffeine. The caffeine-laden CO2 is then sprayed with high pressure water to remove the caffeine. The caffeine can then be isolated by charcoal adsorption (as above) or by distillation, recrystallization, or reverse osmosis.

Extraction by nonhazardous organic solvents

Organic solvents such as ethyl acetate present much less health and environmental hazard than previously used chlorinated and aromatic solvents. The hydrolysis products of ethyl acetate are ethanol and acetic acid, both nonhazardous in small quantities. Another method is to use triglyceride oils obtained from spent coffee grounds.

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