Removing Butane Mystery Oil using a Terpenator.

Hee, hee, hee…………………………

With the discovery of a Mystery Oil in canned butane,  comes yet another good reason to build a Terpenator, as they easily fractionally distill the butane and propane from the heavier Mystery Oil elements, leaving the mixture of oil and waxes the lower collection tank, where they are easily removed using an alcohol wash.

See for more information about the Mystery Oil itself.

Of course you can also simply use a cold trap, instead of a Terpenator, but after purchasing all the same ancillaries, the incremental cost is small and if you are already a proud owner, you are in tall cotton.

Soooo, as most Terpenators are Mk III’s, how do we go about fractional distillation using that unit?

Start by heating the hot water pot to 85F and setting the cleaned and empty Mk IIIA in it.

Pull a hard vacuum on it using the vacuum pump and then close vacuum pump valve 1, before turning off the vacuum pump.

If the recovery tank is empty, pull a vacuum on it as well, before closing the valves to hold the vacuum in place.

Assemble the Mk IIIA system, as if you were preparing to do an extraction.

Open the blue valve on the 50# refrigerant recovery tank, but leave red valve closed.  Open the #3 dump valve and #5 recovery pump valves, closing column vent valve #2 on the Mk IIIA.

Disconnect the red hose from the recovery tank and attach to the can tapper.

Start recovery pump and tap can, using can tapper, open butane supply valve #4 to allow the recovery pump to pull the butane from the can.

When the pressure gauge reads zero pressure, close the #4 valve and tap a new can, before opening it again to allow the butane to load.

Continue that cycle until you have loaded about 10# total or about two cases of 300 ml cans into an empty 50# tank.

When the last can is loaded, and the pressure again reaches zero pressure, close all Terpenator valves and turn off the recovery pump.

Bleed air into the system by removing the pressure gauge hose, and open it up for inspection.

The Mystery Oil will be coating the walls and bottom of the Mk IIIA recovery tank, where it is easily removed by alcohol wash.

The next simple Alkane after Butane, is Pentane, which boils at  36.1C/96.98F, so it is important to not raise the hot pot temperature above 85F and to not pull a vacuum below 0″Hg, so that it is cold boiled away.

18 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by marcus on April 28, 2015 at 3:46 PM

    It was a valve stem in my can tapper. Please delete my comment


  2. Posted by marcus on April 28, 2015 at 3:33 PM

    You say vac the collection pot down to -29″. When I tap my chilled can of butane and open valve 4 nothing happens to the pressure. It stays at -29″. I’m using an appion g5 twin (new pump coming soon) to recover. I put the collection pot in 90F water. I pulled a vac on the collection pot to -29″. I assembled everything except for the column, which I left off because it’s packed with material. Hooked up every line as if doing a run, except for the red valve recovery tank line. I attached that to my can tapper. I opened the blue recovery tank valve. With valve 2 closed I opened valve 3 and 5. I started my recovery pump and opened all the recovery line valves. I then tap a can and open valve 4. Nothing happens. My collection pot is in 90F water, my recovery tank is on dry ice and my appion is on and pulling. I don’t understand why the solvent isn’t pulled from the can, boiled in the pot, and recovered to my tank. It just stays at -29″. Please help me and elaborate on what I am doing incorrect. Thank you


  3. Hey GW,
    you say not to pull vac below 0″hg to avoid the pentane which essentially no vac at all correct? If vacuum pressure was used to pull the butane into the collection pot, then how do you release the vacuum without letting the butane vapor out being that it is in vapor state?


  4. Posted by Maryo on October 15, 2014 at 12:37 AM

    Can you give some instruction on how to distill a50# tank to a50# tank while using the mk3 as a cold trap, I have removed mystery oil from my propane but how much mystery oil should I be looking for in 20#s of propane?


  5. Posted by Bluescat on January 7, 2014 at 6:22 PM

    You say that 2 cases of butane equals 10#. Can you help me with my calculations? I calculate butane weighs 505 g/L making a 300 ml can wigh 151.5 g. I get 24 300 ml cans weighing 3636 grams or 8.016 pounds. Do my numbers look good or where did I go wrong?


  6. If the oil didn’t enter the chamber, it shouldn’t be in the butane. You might consider rinsing out your hose with butane.

    If you had mineral oil in the butane and cycled it through a Mk III, the mineral oil would end up in the collection tank, just like mystery oil.


  7. Posted by John Huff on October 10, 2013 at 2:53 PM

    Update: I was not paranoid, I was correct. The “new” tank has contaminant oil/substance, tho the guy swore twice it was new. Verified because extractor tank (which has a small amount of mystery oil contaminants from Lucienne) is cleaner than subsequent oil straight out of the Butane tank. Now trying to clean tank with small successive runs of Butane, sloshing, then squirting it out. No fun.
    – Dolphin


  8. Posted by John Huff on October 10, 2013 at 12:26 AM

    After removing the red hose from the red valve on the Butane tank, and starting the recovery pump, shouldn’t we re-open the blue valve on the Butane tank (which was closed earlier, in order to vacuum the Butane tank), before proceeding to tap the cans? Otherwise we are just filling the Mk III recovery pot, with nowhere else for the Butane to go. I apologize if this is obvious, logically following from the instruction about assembling the system as if preparing for an extraction. I am new to these active pump systems, and I am wanting to avoid mistakes.
    Also, though I insisted on a brand new tank, I am paranoid that it is not, and could have rust, etc inside. (I cannot open the observation port to peer inside, it’s quite frozen.) What about subsequently pumping the Butane out of the tank and thru the Terp system again, without any plant material, as a “dry run,” to see if any rust or tank contaminants are left in the Terp during that pass? Other or better ideas? Ie, is it also possible to somehow force a small amount of liquid Butane out of one of the Butane tank ports into a glass container to observe it for particulates? I realize this is not particularly safe, but as an old hand at that, I would of course take all precautions and do it outside, well away from everything, etc. I could shake/swirl the tank to agitate, but I am not sure if inverting it is wise, or if there is an internal dip tube, etc.
    Last, I found a $30 combustible “portable gas detector” made by Lorest Holding Co. It claims sensitivity for Butane at 5% LEL. Haven’t tested it yet, but I will keep you informed. Others might want to know.


    • You are right, the blue valve on the tank is open during recovery. I skimmed over that lightly with the thought that “Assemble the Mk IIIA system, as if you were preparing to do an extraction” would start with both tank valves open, hence my call out to close the red valve, but I agree that is unclear, so I reworded it.

      If you run the butane through the Terpenator from the liquid dip tube red valve and vacuum it away as a vapor, you should deposit any heavies or solids from inside the storage tank, inside the Terpenator recovery tank.

      Please share any information on our $30 detectors performance. We got ours for $22 from Gifts and Gadgets on line, but not sure who makes it. It just says Portable Gas Detector on it, as if the brand name might be Portable, but………………….


      • Posted by Dolphin on October 21, 2013 at 10:18 PM

        After using the $30 gas detector (Lorest Co, referenced above) occasionally for a week, I am not enamored with it. My nose seems to do basically as good a job of sniffing Butane as the detector does. Perhaps I am cynical and I will do more A/B testing, but either I need to get a more accurate (expensive) detector, or just continue with my nose (which is pretty good).


        • Posted by jeff on January 1, 2014 at 8:46 AM

          you wont find any low cost LEL or hydrocarbon detectors that will keep you safe. i have been in the compressed gas industry for 30 years. i have used, calibrated, tested and repaired most major brands. i can suggest many that are excellent but not in this price range. if you want to be safe, only use a detector that can be calibrated with a known concentration gas mixture. just drop me a line if you want a recommendation or any further tech info on this subject, or really, any compressed gas subject.
          Happy New Year


  9. Posted by Ryan on October 9, 2013 at 7:44 AM

    Would you be so kind to give instructions to remove the mystery oil using a passive style terpenator? Thanks 🙂


    • Ostensibly, if you transfer the oil from the storage tank to the Tamisium or Lil Terp collection tank, and then set the lower tank 90F water, and the storage tank in an ice bath, the Mystery Oil should be left behind in the collection tank. It will take awhile at 90F, but you might speed it along by using an alcohol and dry ice bath for storage tank.


  10. Posted by Quinn Hidy on September 12, 2013 at 9:09 AM

    It is truly amazing how quickly the SkunkPharm team has reacted to the mystery oil crisis. You guys are saving dab enthusiasts everywhere. This has completely sold me on the importance of a closed loop system, and obviously the terpenator is the smartest way to go. I unfortunately am not sure if I have the means of assembling such a machine in my current residence. So my question is, are there other methods for removing the mystery oil WITHOUT a closed loop system, and if not, what are some suitable substitutes for the terpenator system?


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