A growing number of industrial companies would like to use renewable raw materials for production, out of ecological, economic or technical interest. However, it is not always easy for many of the companies to get into contact with farmers and secure the supply of crops in the quantity and quality they require. Dresden-based C.S.P. Consulting und Service für Pflanzliche Rohstoffe GmbH is now able to use its know-how and that of its partners to close the gap between the farmers, i.e. producers of raw materials, and the processing companies.
Around five years ago, Evelin Tetzner and Günter Gäbler, who both have a degree in garden engineering, combined their engineering offices to establish C.S.P. Consulting und Service für Pflanzliche Rohstoffe GmbH (C.S.P.) with the aim of promoting the industrial application of plant-derived raw and residual materials, in particular plant fibres. In cooperation with their clients, the C.S.P. team searches for plant materials around the world that can be used to manufacture products with specific properties. “Although much has been achieved, a lot of research and development work still needs to be done,” said Evelin Tetzner, managing director of C.S.P., explaining why the company works in close collaboration with relevant scientific institutions such as the Faserinstitut in Bremen (FIBRE), Magdeburg University, Weimar-based IFF and the Saxon Textile Research Institute in Chemnitz.
Whether a certain plant raw material can be used depends on the plant species as well on the geographic area where it is grown. The composition of the soil and the climatic conditions are important factors that determine the quality of plant material. Amongst other things, the amount of precipitation during the main growth season can have a considerable impact on the quality of the plant fibres.
Amongst C.P.S.’s services to industrial companies is the supply of raw and residual materials, substance groups and materials, including the supply of fibres of defined quality and quantity. In order to guarantee this supply, the company works closely with agricultural associations and farmers. It is thus able to guarantee compliance with specific criteria, for example through the application of specific agrotechnical measures, in any process phase. Certain agricultural companies grow plants with a specific fibre quality on the request of C.S.P.. Since renewable raw materials are living organisms that grow in nature, the adaptation of plant quality to customers’ requirements is not an easy task.
One of C.S.P.’s major business foci is the procurement of defined fibres for the production of NF-PP granules (melamine-formaldehyde resin polypropylene granules) for use in injection moulding. A German company uses these grass fibre-reinforced granules for the production of storage boxes for tools and screws.
“The short fibres of grasses like bamboo, millet, miscanthus (giant Chinese silver grass), giant reed, rye, reed and sugar cane are particularly suitable for the production of NF-PP granules. The short fibres can be integrated into the granules without needing to cut them into smaller pieces,” said Günter Gäbler, general manager of the company and an expert in the field of plant raw materials and technologies for harvesting and associated services. Since the grass family is a large and widespread family of grass species (about 600 genera and around 9000 or more species of grasses) ranging from low field grasses to metre-high giant grasses, the company is able to adapt production to the specific needs of the processing industry. Forage rye silage and bagasse (cane trash) are excellent examples of the use of large grass fibre volumes in industrial production. Industry is still slightly reluctant when it comes to manufacturing products with integrated plant raw materials. “However, we are slowly but surely adapting production to the requirements of our industrial clients; we are now able to cultivate selected plants under defined conditions and prepare plant residues more specifically,” explains Gäbler pointing out that industry is only willing to start using renewable resources once the quality and quantity can be contractually guaranteed.
C.S.P. GmbH mainly uses cultivation areas in southeastern Europe such as Hungary, Romania, the Ukraine and Russia. Since dry plant material is very light, regular investigations focus on assessing whether setting up first-stage processing plants at the site of harvest might contribute to optimising the use of long-distance transport. At present, investigations are being carried out with the aim of establishing the use of plant fibres in the field of construction material production. For example, chaff from Miscanthus x giganteus (giant Chinese silver grass) is integrated into concrete elements in order to reduce their weight, improve diffusion values as well as economise on cement and sand. Prefabricated building units of this kind can be used for the construction of houses and for the production of noise protection walls.A project of this kind has been initiated in Ghana where plant residues, i.e. the fibres of oil palm leaf blades, are being used for the production of lighter building units. In addition, a method to turn grass fibres into fleeces and produce insulation mats is currently being tested with the aim of replacing the mineral wool that is traditionally used for roof insulation purposes. The specific characteristics of individual fibres enable manufacturers to reduce the proportion of synthetic adhesive fibres, thereby reducing costs and enabling the more environmentally friendly recycling of the products. When taken as a whole, the two entrepreneurs do not believe that the planned use of renewable raw materials in industry is in conflict with food production. “We have seen in the countries where the materials are grown that there are no problems in producing sufficient quantities of food. The major problem that hinders the use of renewable raw materials relates to logistics and the subsequent processing stages,” said Tetzner. According to C.S.P., more than 20% of the agricultural cultivation area would have to be taken out of circulation if this area were not used for the cultivation of plant raw materials for the processing industry.