As hemp was in the process of gaining legitimacy, Steve Mueller saw a business opportunity in an area of the hemp industry with not much competition: extraction of cannabinoid oils.
Hemp production in the U.S. grew from 9,770 acres in 2016 to more than 25,500 acres in 2017, and it's projected to grow to 150,00 acres in 2019, said Mueller, who founded Boulder-based Mile High Labs in 2016 to help extract CBD oils.
Now Mile High Labs is set to unveil on Monday a commercial scale, patent-pending extractor that he said can process about 50 acres of hemp per day into six barrels of CBD oil, which is used in tinctures, creams and edibles. The new extractor, the result of years of research and development, will help meet demand for the oil, which he said continues to grow rapidly.
Sales of CBD products is expected to reach $1.15 billion in 2020, according to Statista.
Called the Mile High Monster, the extractor is installed directly on a hemp farm to work like an oil derrick.
The company's first Mile High Monster, set up in eastern Colorado, will become operational Monday.
A second plant in southern Colarado is expected to become functional in early May.
This means the hemp crop won't have to be trucked for extraction elsewhere, Mueller said. The CBD crude produced on site will be shipped to the company's Loveland plant for further refining and purification, he said. (Crude oil, distillate and isolate are three different grades of CBD oils based on purity levels, with isolate being the top one.)
The entire process involves repeated scientific analysis, and a focus on compliance with regulatory requirements. It's about providing customers a consistent, high-quality product. That's the key to the success, he said.
“Large scale extraction will be the need of the future,” said Tim Gordon, president of the Colorado Hemp Industries Association, which counts more than 300 farmers and processors in Colorado as members. Scaling up the extraction process is a great idea, he said. An increased global demand for hemp-based products would have supply issues without large scale extraction processes in place, he said. “Mile High Labs has done a great job.”
In 2019, about one million pounds of hemp in the U.S. would need CBD extraction, said Gordon, who's also the founder of Functional Remedies, a vertically integrated hemp company based in Superior.
After the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, the production of hemp, a form of cannabis with no more than 0.3 percent of the psychoactive component tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, could grow into a $20 billion industry by 2022, according to experts.
The move from lab-based extraction systems to large-scale systems will change the face of the industry, Mueller said. He said he faced many challenges while developing his machine: the biggest being how to ensure the quality of the end product using varied kinds of hemp that were grown, harvested and dried differently.
“We would test batches and revamp the machine,” Mueller said. “We developed a robust process that could handle any kind of hemp by understanding the physics and chemistry of some unit operations in the manufacturing process.”
The success of the technology helped Mile High Labs raise $35 million through private equity last year, he said. Since then, the company has hired more employees and opened an office in Belfast, U.K. “We are going to be the number one CBD provider. We are also interested in exploring other cannabinoid compounds such as CBN (cannabinol) and CBG (cannabigerol).”
Pratik Joshi: 303-684-5310, firstname.lastname@example.org