American Hemp: Colorado Biotech Firm Ramps Up Processing Plans

Fort Lupton’s PureVision Technology wants to process hemp stalks for consumer-product manufacturing and plans large-scale biorefinery in Oregon.

hemp_stalkA Colorado biotech company plans to open a large-scale industrial hemp processing facility that will take the crop’s would-be waste — namely hemp stalks — and make it useful.

The hemp biorefinery is being established by Fort Lupton-based PureVision Technology, Inc., and illuminates the growing enthusiasm around hemp entrepreneurship. But the northern Colorado company’s recent announcement also points to the ongoing federal legal challenges to jump-starting American processing of industrial hemp. The plant, which is cannabis without psychoactive properties, has been grouped alongside heroin, MDMA/Ecstasy and other federal Schedule 1 drugs for more than 40 years. Hemp farming returned to Colorado last year on a limited basis.

PureVision Technology already processes plant waste from such crops as corn and wheat into raw materials including pulp for paper and sugars for biofuel. The company sells those fresh raw materials internationally to consumer-product manufacturers.

“Our original business model was to better utilize waste and turn it into resources,” said company co-owner Ed Lehrburger in a telephone interview. He and his brother Carl Lehrburger founded PureVision Technology 23 years ago, along with business partner Dick Wingerson, a nuclear engineer who trained at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Last year, PureVision Technology used its Colorado biorefinery laboratory to process hemp waste. In the lab, PureVision has successfully converted hemp biomass into sugars. Now it intends to also process the plant into lignins, pulp and cannabidiol (CBD) extract for various manufacturing applications such as sweeteners, plastics or packaging.

“The average consumer has no idea about the versatility of these hemp plants (or) about their healing and nutraceutical qualities,” Lehrburger said.

PureVision’s lab-scale testing started with 100 hemp stalks from the 2014 Colorado outdoor harvest. Based on those results, the company will move forward with increased hemp processing at an established industrial biorefinery in Boardman, Ore., owned by ZeaChem, Inc. The new initiative is called PureHemp Technology.

“The significant infrastructure in place at the ZeaChem facility will reduce the costs and timing to develop our 25-ton-per-day biorefining project,” Lehrburger said in a PureHemp news release. He added by telephone that his company expects to begin operations in Oregon in late 2016 or early 2017.

PureVision Techology’s hemp ramp-up coincides with a $10 million fundraising initiative, or what’s known among “angel investors” as a Series A Preferred Stock offering, or a private equity sale.

“We are very motivated to put together a Colorado biorefinery,” Lehrburger said, adding the company is “looking for collaborators” before finalizing plans for a large-scale hemp biorefinery in Colorado.