By Gregory Daurer | Jan 07, 2017
Lee Sutherland created a product called The Source with a simple purpose in mind: It allows people to create alcohol extractions out of whatever herbal or biological material they want to concentrate. Just soak the material in grain alcohol for a few minutes to a few hours (depending on the density of the material, and the desired end result). Run the liquid through a coffee filter or a Büchner funnel. Then put the solution into the device, and turn it on.
First, the machine creates a vacuum, which then allows the alcohol solution to boil at a mere 100 or so degrees Fahrenheit (instead of 178), thus preserving the flavor and scent terpenes in the final product. The alcohol evaporates and is collected inside around the sides. Afterwards, it can be poured out and reused. The extracted material, previously within the alcohol solution, turns into an oil, a waxy solid, or powder, usually within two to three hours.
"People are so used to buying the finished products," says Sutherland, who has worked in the aerospace industry on mechanical, electrical, and optical engineering projects. "They don't really think about being able to make extracts right at home, just as safely and just as easily as using a blender or any other kitchen appliance."
Herbalists and practitioners of naturopathic medicine can make an essential oil out of, say, rose or lavender
Homebrewers can use it to create their own hop oils. One of them doing just that is ExtractCraft CEO Troy Ivan, who says, "Instead of just being limited to whatever hop oil is being offered to you to buy [at a homebrew store], you can go in and choose from all the hops, or grow your own hops, and extract it yourself."
Similarly, brewers -- as well as winemakers -- can extract the essence of a wood, like oak, to add as a flavoring to their beer or wine, instead of using wood chips or barrel-aging. Or beer enthusiasts can extract, for instance, grapefruit peel to add as a flavoring to a batch.
Chefs can create extracts of sage or thyme to add to a meal. Or make truffle or hot pepper oil.
And medicinal or recreational marijuana users can make extracts that can be used in edibles -- or for dabbing. The device has taken off with cannabis consumers, who have championed the device in a user group for the product. Cannabis chef Chris Sayegh has used it to make a sumac oil for one of his dishes.
Sutherland had cannabis -- or, more specifically, CBD from hemp -- in mind when he developed a prototype extraction unit. His mother has MS and his father is a retired logger with joint issues. Sutherland says, "They don't like to smoke and they really don't like the THC, and they wanted to be able to do their own extraction. So, they were trying to make their own cannabis oil on the cook stove, and it really stank up the place."
Not only that, but they didn't wind up with all that great a product due to the amount of heat being used. Sutherland set out to devise a better way for them to complete their task.
The Source retails for $599. Sutherland is at work on less expensive models and a deluxe one that will be able to extract larger amounts in a run.
There's interest from across the country -- and around the world -- for the product. Sutherland says, "This is our first year [selling the product], and we expect to break $750,000 by the end of the year. Perhaps double that in the coming year."
Several different manufacturing processes take place in order to produce The Source: aluminum casting, machined aluminum parts, deep drawn stainless steel parts, injection-molded plastic components, injection-molded rubber, flat-cut glass, and circular-cut glass.
"They're very, very different vendor bases and we have really worked to put in a mammoth effort to keep everything as close to our headquarters here in Longmont, Colorado as possible," says Sutherland. "So a lot of our parts are made right here. Notably, all the circuit-board manufacturing occurs here. . . . I've done all the engineering and code building for the circuit board. And all the mechanical and the system integration." The final assembly is done by a contract manufacturer in Longmont.
Clearly, Sutherland enjoys taking on technical challenges. "A lot of people said we couldn't do it here -- and we've proven them wrong," he says.
Challenges: Sales and Marketing Director Colby Zeedyk says, "Right now, I think it's finding those various lanes that this can go down for the consumers. Obviously, a lot of people already understand the impact of extraction when it comes to cannabis; but talking about [the product to] homebrewers -- or even commercial brewers doing extraction on a small scale, so they can find out that specific oil they want. Or the essential oil market. Culinary aspects: rosemary and thyme and vanilla and everything else you can extract. . . . I think, once it hits that mainstream market, this is the type of product that you [will be able to] eventually pick up in a Bed Bath & Beyond. It really, truly is a cooking utensil for any chef."
Opportunities: Sutherland says, "The biggest opportunity, right now, is probably going to remain in cannabis, for quite a long time. . . . Cannabis is the fastest-growing industry in America, bar none, right now. And, not only that, extracts are the largest growing segment of that market. Being able to do it at home safely, and being able to do it easily with high quality [end results], more and more people are going to become aware and demand that capability. And we're the only company out there, virtually, that offers that at a price that consumers are willing to accept. We're pretty unique in the market right now. It's an interesting place to be."
Needs: Sutherland cites the contracting of local businesses to make the needed parts for his products: "Our biggest needs are being able to network with businesses who are able to service the kinds of parts for the kinds of products we make. . . So, from a manufacturing standpoint, I'm finding that the capacity for addressing projects like mine is pretty limited. . . . It's really a struggle to avoid looking across my shoulder at going to Asia, where they return my phone calls, they return my emails, and so forth, whereas it's a struggle to get that from U.S. manufacturers."