Alex Park and his two partners wanted to grow cannabis commercially without using an excessive amount of energy, a problem that has plagued indoor marijuana cultivation.
The young entrepreneurs, who have been friends since their days at the University of Colorado, found a solution by designing a facility that allows plants to be drenched with sunlight while remaining submerged in hydroponic canisters located within a warehouse. The 22,000-square-foot facility includes growing areas of different sizes, and space for storage and processing.
"It's the first of its kind of facility. It gets the best of the indoor and outdoor environments," said second business partner Harrison Somoza, who serves as chief operating officer of Vera Cultivation, which started growing cannabis in August.
The hybrid design allows growers to control the temperature, humidity and light marijuana plants need as they blossom to maturity. The plants need at least 12 hours of intense light, Somoza said. The facility, located in an unincorporated part of Boulder County, also is sealed more tightly than a traditional greenhouse, reducing the potential for pests and diseases, he said. The facility also has high-pressure sodium bulbs as a source of supplemental light.
Often the light sources and cooling systems used in indoor marijuana cultivation contribute to high electricity consumption. But the founders of Vera Cultivation wanted to have energy-efficient operation, so instead of traditional refrigerant-based air conditioning system, they used chilled water systems for both cooling and dehumidification. There is no wastage of water as it gets circulated back into the system, said Park, CEO of Vera.
"Resource efficiency is the core of our business: Maximizing the output of cannabis while minimizing the necessary inputs for production," he said.
Vera Cultivation, backed by investors, is focused primarily on marijuana bud, the more expensive core product needed in the creation of cannabis-infused products. The bud will be dried and sold to extraction companies and retail dispensaries, Park said. The trimmed leaf matter will be another revenue stream for Vera.
In 2017, total marijuana sales in Colorado were more than $1.5 billion, of which $1.1 billion came from the sale of recreational marijuana, according to data from Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City. In February 2018, the number of licensed marijuana cultivation facilities in Colorado was 1,473.
Though the Vera facility is fully automated, it still heavily relies on the marijuana growing experience of third partner, Eric Haughton, Vera's chief production officer. He physically examines the plants to check on their growth and for potential pestilence issues.
"Discoloration of leaf surface may indicate problems. But we can take a lot of corrective measures to fix them." Somoza said.
Vera is working to reduce energy usage as it evolves as a business, Somoza said. Vera tracks its electricity consumption and pays a mandated 2.16 cent charge per kilowatt-hour into the Boulder County Energy Impact Offset Fund. The county requires growers to offset their electricity use with local renewable energy or pay the fee, which is used to develop best practices for marijuana cultivation.
The goal is to have energy efficient cultivation, said Kristen Huber, Boulder County's licensing program manager. The county has issued 18 marijuana cultivation licenses since 2012, she said.
Pratik Joshi: 303-684-5310, firstname.lastname@example.org