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Biowert is a German company that specializes in sustainable solutions for plastic products. They have developed an innovative bioplastic made from grass fibers and recycled plastic but also designed their entire production process in line with a circular economy to keep the ecological footprint as small as possible. This makes a significant contribution to achieving SDG 7, 9, 12, 13, and 17.
Biowert created a bioplastic called AgriPlast, which is made of 30-75% meadow grass and combined with plastics. "But (...) not with normal plastics, conventional plastics, but with recycled plastic," explains marketing manager Asli Hanci in an interview. This innovative combination of materials offers a more environmentally friendly and recyclable alternative to conventional petroleum-based plastics. In addition, the company has established a comprehensive circular economy that uses resources efficiently and minimizes production waste. This enables production to be as sustainable as possible: "And I would say that is one of the greatest innovations, because that is rather not the case in the plastics industry," Hanci clarifies.
The circular economy system of Biowert begins with harvesting and storing the grass in a silo, where it is fermented. The solid cellulose fibers are then separated from the soft components of the grass. The purified cellulose can be dried and processed into the bioplastic AgriPlast. The remaining grass sap is fed into a biogas plant where fermentation produces biogas, which can be utilized in their own combined heat and power plants: "This in turn generates green electricity and heat, which is used for the production process," says Hanci. After the fermentation process in the biogas plant is complete, a nutrient-rich product remains, which is a liquid fertilizer called AgriFer. It will be supplied to the farmers who provide Biowert with grass, creating a closed cycle that begins and ends in the fields. Furthermore, the bioplastic AgriPlast is fully recyclable which means that the material can be reintroduced into the production cycle after use, completely closing the material cycle.
The innovation of Biowert dates back to 2005 when chemist Michael Gass founded the company. He initially faced skepticism when seeking funding for his idea: "We were clearly too early with the topic of sustainability. That was also (…) one topic that Dr. Gass was confronted with, that people made fun of him a little. Why should there be plastics made from grass? What for? And so on," explained Hanci.
However, he was able to secure financing for the company, and the first biorefinery was constructed in Brensbach in the Odenwald. The plant then commenced operations in 2007. "It all began with the biorefinery and is now also active in the field of plastics," states Asli Hanci regarding the company's development.
Gass had a clear mission in mind: "Well, the mission was to move the plastics industry away from the linear economy," reports Hanci. Therefore, the purpose of the innovation was also to inspire other companies and promote a shift in thinking towards creating new standards for sustainable plastics production and the industry as a whole. He wanted to emphasize that it is important to produce sustainably and that it will be necessary to comply with certain environmental standards in the future. Biowert and their innovations should serve as a role model for promoting sustainable development in the industry. "And show that this is possible," Hanci asserts.
After Michael Gass passed away in 2019, Jens Meyer zu Drewer took over the management of the company and has since been carrying on his mission and vision.
Biowert circular economy
Founder Michael Gass realized that sustainability had not been a priority in production, which led to the original idea for Biowert. Asli Hanci explains: "Mr. Gass worked in the paper industry before his time with Biowert and saw that, for cost reasons, savings, etc., raw materials were being used which were not sustainable." He was concerned about the environmental impact of cellulose production and decided to take action to address the issue due to his strong commitment to sustainability.
This is how he got the idea to obtain versatile cellulose fibers from renewable raw materials like meadow grass instead of wood, like other companies do. "Because meadow grass is (…) unproblematic," explains Hanci, it is a widely available raw material that doesn't require clearing land for cultivation. Compared to wood, grass is also a rapidly renewable resource which is locally available in large quantities. Hence the idea for AgriPlast was also inspired by the many advantages of grass as a raw material.
However, his personal commitment to the topic of sustainability and the desire to make a difference were not the only motivations behind the creation of the innovation. "And also, because he saw that things couldn't go on like this anyway. The way things are now, there needs to be a greater focus on the topics of circular economy and sustainability,” adds Asli Hanci.
Accordingly, Gass also recognized the necessity to take the demonstrably negative effects of linear production methods on the environment seriously and to take action. This is how he came up with the idea of not only using more sustainable materials, but also establishing a comprehensive circular economy in order to make production itself as sustainable as possible.
The innovation of the company has a demonstrable impact on the environment by minimizing the environmental impact of plastics and their manufacturing process, thus protecting the environment from harmful influences.
AgriPlast, for example, enables a saving of 30-75% of petroleum-based plastics compared to conventional plastics. "This allows us to save oil and use renewable raw materials," explains Hanci. "We never actually use resources or materials that are not already available," she continues. Therefore, it makes a valuable contribution to recycling and ensures that scarce resources such as crude oil are conserved. Furthermore, bioplastics offer the possibility of reducing the volume of plastic waste through recycling. In the long term, this ensures that less plastic is disposed of in landfill sites and is instead reintegrated into a product cycle.
Biowert also ensures "(...) that our ecological footprint is constantly being reduced," explains Hanci. The circular economy offers the opportunity to avoid waste and wastewater or to use it sensibly, reducing the burden on the environment. One example of this is the creation of AgriFer, a biological fertilizer made from waste products of production.
AgriPlast and the circular system also have a large impact on reducing harmful greenhouse gases compared to the amount produced by the manufacturing process of conventional plastics. "And this can already save up to 64% carbon dioxide," emphasizes Hanci regarding the final products made from AgriPlast. Therefore, the circular economy helps to reduce harmful emissions, lowering the burden on the environment and protecting the climate in the long term.
AgriPlast and the implemented circular economy also have a significant impact on society and the company Biowert. In view of the increasing relevance of the issue of sustainability and the urgency to act, Biowert is drawing attention to the fact that more sustainable alternatives are already available.
"We are raising awareness of the Odenwald through our activities, firstly by having politicians visit us and secondly by taking part in competitions throughout Hessen," says Asli Hanci. These measures not only increase the attractiveness of the region, but also promote the visibility of the innovation. In this way, they sensitize society and other companies to the issue of sustainability and inspire them to rethink. Biowert thus also acts as a role model by showing how sustainable production can be successfully implemented, for which Biowert received the “Ernst-Pelz-Preis” for sustainability in 2014 and was a finalist of the “Hessen Champions” competition in the category innovation in 2023. These achievements demonstrate the company's pioneering role in the field of sustainability and confirm the quality of its innovation as well as encouraging people to rethink their own consumption and choose better alternatives.
The fact that Biowert quadrupled their production capacity in 2021 also indicates a growing demand for products made of sustainable plastics and highlights AgriPlast as a strong competitor to conventional plastics.
At the same time, the increased attention enables Biowert to convince other companies of the innovation, win new customers, and further establish the product on the market. For example, a large drugstore chain uses hangers made from AgriPlast and ensures that millions of Biowert products can already be found in retail stores. "And that is where the cycle closes, because they basically keep the hangers in the store and broken or damaged hangers go back to the company that makes the hangers, where they are shredded and new hangers are made," states Hanci as an example of an already established recycling system on a large scale.
Biowert has the opportunity to generate additional income by their innovative circular economy system. Local companies sell their food waste to Biowert which is then processed in the biogas plant. Additionally, they also benefit from utilizing the generated biogas, which covers the biorefinery's entire energy requirements, resulting in considerable savings in energy costs and making them independent of energy suppliers. If more electricity is produced than the biorefinery consumes, the surplus is fed into the public power grid, generating additional income.
The business also benefits from the waste products generated during production. The grass juice that remains during the processing of the cellulose fibers contains many nutrients and is fermented together with the food waste in the biogas plant. The resulting natural fertilizer, AgriFer, is sold to farmers who grow the grass for Biowert.
Furthermore, the innovation provides the company with a competitive advantage as they offer more sustainable products without compromising on the quality of the final product. Their emphasis on regionalism also makes them a highly attractive partner for customers because it is a crucial aspect of sustainability that many other companies tend to overlook. While competitors have started producing bioplastics, they often do so without adapting their production methods. This provides Biowert with a significant advantage and sets them apart from the competition.
For research and development, Biowert also collaborates with universities such as Darmstadt. This partnership is mutually beneficial because it provides universities with the opportunity to engage in new research projects while enabling Biowert to further develop its products at the same time. Collaborations like these help to make way for progress, which is crucial for an innovation, or, as Hanci puts it: “I would say that an innovation will always remain an innovation if you constantly work on it.”
Operating the biogas plant has the additional benefit of utilizing food waste from nearby canteens. In this way, the innovation helps turn food waste into something positive by converting leftovers into energy in the form of electricity and heat. People in the region also benefit from the surplus electricity, which is fed into the public grid, giving them access to sustainable green electricity.
The produced fertilizer AgriFer has several environmental advantages compared to conventional nitrogen fertilizers. It contains no chemical additives and consists of the nutrients contained in the grass, making it completely natural and therefore biodegradable. This promotes biodiversity and helps maintain soil fertility in the long term.
"Here in Brensbach, we can actually use areas that otherwise couldn't be used. It is very hilly, which means you cannot really engage in agriculture there," explains Asli Hanci. This means that the farmers can also cultivate fields that are unusable for any other form of agriculture and would therefore remain unused.
Choosing grass as a raw material has the advantage over alternatives such as sugar cane or wood because it is available regionally and can be harvested up to four times a year. Sugar cane grows in tropical regions, resulting in long transportation routes and although wood is also a renewable raw material, it takes several years to be recovered.
Another advantage of the material is that compounds of AgriPlast and biodegradable plastics can be composted so that the possibility of environmentally friendly disposal is ensured.
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Asli Hanci, Marketing Manager
BIOWERT GmbH is a sustainable industrial company and energy supplier in Brensbach in the Odenwald region, Germany.
Using in-house technology and unique know-how, they have built the world's first industrial grass processing plant based on the principles of green biorefining.
BIOWERT GmbH sees itself as an industrial company that achieves its success with, and not against, nature. Their actions are based on the principles of corporate social responsibility towards employees, customers, suppliers and the public.