At the start of the supercritical CO2 extraction process, the natural raw material is placed in a container which is put in the extraction part of the equipment. Here, a pump continuously circulates the CO2 in a supercritical state, and selected compounds are dissolved in the supercritical CO2 medium. By playing with temperature and pressure in the extractor, it can be defined which compounds are extracted. After extraction, in the separation part of the equipment the pressure is decreased to separate the (now gaseous) CO2 from the extracted compounds. This CO2 is recovered and can be used for subsequent extraction cycles. During a cycle, several different compounds can be extracted, and they are collected into two or three separate vessels in liquid or solid form.
Solid materials such as flowers or wood are typical raw materials out of which compounds are extracted. Another application is the removal of organic solvents from plastic waste, in order to clean and recycle the plastic.