We operate a small commercial-scale essential oil distillation unit that is made from 90% recycled stainless steel.
Building the still was time-consuming and challenging but we are totally pleased with the final product! It can hold up to 120 lbs of plant material and automatically maintains constant low-pressure, low-temperature steam for up to 9 hours without refilling (20+ hours with hydrosol recirculation). It was built with 100% stainless steel using recycled materials wherever possible.
For instance, the stainless barrels held cinnamon essential oil for a ubiquitous Atlanta, Ga based soft drink maker; the stainless screening for the plant material baskets came from unused but discarded washing machine drums (a pallet or two must have been bent in transit); the stainless waterproof electronics box, all of the stainless tubing and many stainless fittings were fortunate scrap yard finds. The (new) dome for the top of the still was a traditional giant stainless Mexican cooking dish known as a Cazo. Of course, stainless steel was used for all welds. Our still is electrically heated to allow for greater flexibility in distillation location.
We use pure mountain spring water from our remote forest farm in our distillations and cold, plentiful creek water to cool our still.
Another key to the distillation puzzle is the receiver/separator; it collects the cooled steam (hydrosol) and oil from the still and gives it space to separate. The oil floats on top of the hydrosol; the latter of which drains from an outlet at the bottom of the separator. We tried building our own separator from stainless tubing… but quickly learned it needs to be adjustable and we need to see what’s happening inside. So we found a great local glass blower to custom build a laboratory-quality one based on some general principles and drawings. It works absolutely flawlessly! Plus, look at it… Beautiful.