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To enhance production efficiency and reduce its carbon footprint, Quintis has recently launched its patented, purpose-built and fully automated Continuous Steam Distillation (CSD) plant, after seven year's work. Here are answers to some common questions around why and how we are redefining steam distillation.

Why did Quintis Sandalwood develop a new way to distil oils?

Quintis Sandalwood realised several years ago that with its increased projections in sandalwood oil production - due to plantation growth and industry demand - producing oil in batches through the traditional method of steam distillation would become highly uneconomical, it would need to expand its Albany distillation factory five times its current size to produce enough oil. This would require a very high capital investment and have a negative impact on the company’s environmental footprint in the form of additional steam requirements, the procurement of materials to build the site and the energy expended in large-scale construction. 

To meet expected production levels of sandalwood oil per year and be more sustainable, Quintis Sandalwood needed to change the way it distilled sandalwood oil, challenging traditional 3000-year old steam distillation methods. The team sought to develop an environmentally friendly and cost-effective process that also ensured product quality was not affected.

How is Quintis Sandalwood’s Continuous Steam Distillation different to traditional extraction methods?

In the Continuous Steam Distillation process, a conveyor system transports chips into the top of the unit where the distillation process starts. The chips are continuously fed and we are able to be 100% efficient with steam use due to the counter current flow of steam versus wood through the system. The spent charge (chips after steam distillation) is then removed from the bottom of the unit, allowing distillation to be continuous.

How did Quintis Sandalwood develop Continuous Steam Distillation (CSD)?

The Quintis Sandalwood manufacturing and Research and Development teams decided to develop a prototype to distil oil continuously, inspired by continuous in-feed and out-feed systems commonly used in papermaking. They developed a very small-scale pilot plant and ran their first trials in 2015. The trials were a success, producing oil that was superior and by-products that were better and lighter.

The team then moved on to design and build a commercial pilot plant with engineers in Japan, with the first production run completed in November 2017. This was followed up by two more runs with modifications and improvements after each run, and a final run completed in May 2019.

The new CSD plant is now fully automated, with the ground-breaking technology patented in Australia and China, and it has now been running continuously since Sept 2021.

What are the benefits of Quintis Sandalwood’s Continuous Steam Distillation?

  • The process has become more efficient and sustainable. Quintis Sandalwood can produce greater volumes of oil at greater speeds, with four times more oil produced with the same volume of steam, saving up to 75% more water and energy. Through Continuous Steam Distillation, A grade sandalwood now takes two days to distil instead of nine days, thus reducing the company’s carbon footprint drastically per kilogram of oil produced.
  • The reduced retention time has also improved the oil quality, with the shorter time in the cooling pot highlighting the woody, creamy notes sandalwood is renowned for.
  • The spent charge, the chips that have been through the process of oil extraction, are better quality, going from no market to a by-product perfect for incense.
  • The solution enabled Quintis Sandalwood to use its current Albany distillation site as a brownfield investment, as the team could reuse most of the current distillation facility infrastructure and utilities like electrical supply, water supply, boiler, cooling towers and wastewater plants, which could cope with the increased volume of oil production of the new process.