Poplar research between Saxony and Slovakia – New partners for even more sustainability in the garden
Scientific team of TU Dresden researches for European project Dendromass4Europe for bioeconomy
In the Dendromass4Europe (D4EU) research project, a team of now ten partners and eight countries under the leadership of Prof. Norbert Weber from TU Dresden is working to ensure that the new gardening season can start without mountains of waste from plastic pots. Recently, the D4EU consortium has therefore added two new partner companies to develop even more innovative products based on poplar wood and bark (dendromass).
One company comes from Polenz near Neustadt in Saxony – the packaging manufacturer Pulp-Tec Compound GmbH & Co KG. The Czech company TerrainEco is joining the project as the second new project partner. With its PERWOOD brand, TerrainEco specializes in the manufacture of high-quality products made of wood-plastic composites (WPC). Both new project partners will use their expertise to ensure even greater sustainability in the use of all parts of the poplar tree.
Dendromass for furniture and household items
Dendromass4Europe aims to replace fossil materials with innovative bio-based materials from agricultural tree crops. Since 2017, the TU Dresden team led by project coordinator Prof. Dr. Norbert Weber, holder of the Chair of Forest Policy and Forest Resource Economics, has been researching how poplars can be grown on very poorly nutrient-supplied soils and what products can be developed from the wood and bark of poplars. The fast-growing trees now grow and thrive on more than 1,300 hectares in northwestern Slovakia – in the immediate vicinity of the IKEA Industry plant in Malacky. Poplars are the wood raw material from which even lighter furniture will be built in the future. Tree parts such as the bark that are not used for furniture production can be processed by other companies into new types of products in the spirit of a sustainable bioeconomy. A great deal of research work is initially required for their development, involving seven different institutes at the TU Dresden. In addition to studies on the genetics and growth characteristics of various poplar varieties, the TU Dresden is supporting the project primarily with soil science, logistics, wood chemistry and fiber technology research contributions.
Extensive value creation of poplar in terms of sustainability through new project partners
For many years, the Saxony-based company Pulp-Tec Compound has been producing fiber castings, an environmentally friendly packaging material made from recycled cardboard or paper and widely known in the form of egg cartons. However, in order for cast fiber to be used as a flowerpot, the material must be resistant to mold for six months, despite soil and moisture. Otherwise, the plant pots would already decompose while still in the store. The research team from the Chair of Wood and Fiber Technology (HFT) and the Institute of Plant and Wood Chemistry (IPWC) at the TU Dresden found the necessary fungicidal substances in poplar bark. The Pulp-Tec Compound products, available under the name BIOFORM®, are now fully compostable and stable thanks to the poplar bark’s mold-inhibiting properties. Those who wish can even bury the new garden plants with BIOFORM® plant pots, as it will completely dissolve in nature after a few months. With these innovative bio-based materials, Pulp-Tec Compound and the project team are making an important contribution to combating increasing plastic pollution.
TerrainEco, on the other hand, is developing a process to use poplar bark in wood-plastic composites (WPC). WPC is currently enjoying increasing popularity for decking, fencing and facade cladding, as it combines the positive properties of wood and plastic: as stylish as wood, yet as durable and easy to maintain as plastic. Until now, the valuable and therefore rather expensive raw material wood has been used in the production of WPC. As part of the project, TerrainEco wants to develop a composite material that can be produced more cheaply as well as having a better ecological balance. Poplar bark, which until now has at best ended up in combustion to generate process heat in factories, appears to be a promising alternative here.
Bioeconomy: Sustainable raw material use and processing.
An important concern of the Dendromass4Europe research project is to process all woody components of poplars into high-quality products. While poplar bark has often gone unused or been burned for energy production to date, the research team also wants to store the carbon dioxide bound in the bark for a longer term. The combination of several value chains based on poplar wood and poplar bark represents a real contribution toward a bioeconomy worthy of the name. To achieve this, the entire value chain from cultivation to harvesting, transport and use of the individual poplar parts must be coordinated in detail between the participating companies IKEA Industry (Slovakia), Pulp-Tec (Poland), TerrainEco (Czech Republic) and Pulp-Tec Compound (Germany). IKEA Industry mainly needs the thicker trunk parts of the poplar. Until now, IKEA Industry used mainly pine wood, but was looking for a new type of wood that would enable the production of lighter and stronger material boards for furniture production and relieve forests as a source of raw materials. The poplar parts with high bark content, such as the upper trunk sections and branches, are processed by TerrainEco into durable, low-maintenance and recyclable WPC products.
The Austrian research center Wood K Plus uses comprehensive life cycle assessment to ensure that all products developed in the Dendromass4Europe project are truly sustainable in terms of their impact on the environment and society. With the nature monitoring of the project partner Daphne, a Slovakian institute for applied ecology, the research team also wants to make sure that the poplar plantations themselves do not have any negative impact on the environment. However, the results to date in this regard are promising: the perennial tree crops are managed without agricultural chemicals, making them a valuable habitat for a variety of species groups. Overall, the poplars could significantly promote biodiversity and even improve soil quality in the long term, as they filter toxins from the soil and the fallen poplar leaves form a fertile humus layer. The further spread of this model of more sustainable, bio-based production through cultures of fast-growing trees on agricultural land, which has arrived in practice, is highly desirable for the growing independence of our European economy from fossil raw materials.
This project has received funding from the Biobased Industries Joint Undertaking (JU) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 745874. The JU receives support from the 22 European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme and the Bio-based Industries Consortium.
Tel.: +49 351 463-31848
Mobil: +49 174 20 200 69