Supercritical fluid technologies offer a propitious method for drug discovery from natural sources. Such methods require relatively short processing times, produce extracts with little or no organic co-solvent, and are able to extract bioactive molecules whilst minimising degradation. Supercritical fluid extraction (SFE) provides a range of benefits, as well as offering routes to overcome some of the limitations that exist with the conventional methods of extraction. Unfortunately, SFE-based methods are not without their own shortcomings; two major ones being: (1) the high establishment cost; and (2) the selective solvent nature of CO₂, i.e., that CO₂ only dissolves small non-polar molecules, although this can be viewed as a positive outcome provided bioactive molecules are extracted during solvent-based SFE. This review provides an update of SFE methods for natural products and outlines the main operating parameters for extract recovery. Selected processing considerations are presented regarding supercritical fluids and the development and application of ultrasonic-assisted SFE methods, as well as providing some of the key aspects of SFE scalability.
Keywords: carbon dioxide; compressed gas; dense gas; drug discovery; plants; pressure; scale-up; temperature; ultrasound.