The REHAP project, for which Insight Media was the dissemination and exploitation partner, set out five years ago to create a set of novel processes and materials from agricultural and forestry waste. The project came to an end in March this year and has now been declared a resounding success by reviewers after delivering two new patents, three commercially viable products and a series of promising results that demonstrate the potential for significant economic impact.
In addition to the development of these results, REHAP also delivered important research results into the increased use of wood bark, straw and other natural waste, focusing on where in the EU such residues occur and in what quantities, and what the consequences of their use would be. Not only did this research, carried out by the University of Augsburg, draw up detailed data about the availability of wood bark and straw in the EU, but it also developed sophisticated algorithms that map the interrelationships between the use of such waste and the impact that would have on things like soil quality, availability of animal bedding material and food production, for example, so that sweet spots can be found and negative impacts minimised.
In terms of the development of novel processes and materials, REHAP’s main objective was the transformation of agroforestry residues into new sustainable and eco-efficient derivatives, comprising diol building blocks, high-performance additives (superplasticisers and flame retardants) and biobased polymeric resins (biophenolics and NIPUs). The project also set out to demonstrate the potential use of these materials in several products at an industrial level and their application in sectors like construction. These products included new fire retardants based on phenolic and sugar wastes, for which a patent has been applied by TECNALIA.
One of the main successes of REHAP was the development of bioresins based on lignin and tannins, which were demonstrated by FORESA with a substitution of 50% of phenol which was able to obtain the same performance as the fossil-based equivalent at a better cost. A patent was also granted for the novel extraction and purification of tannins and sugars from European softwood (Norway spruce) used in these bioresins. These were demonstrated in wooden panels, which project partner FORESA has taken to market.
Another success was the development of 100% biopolyesterpolyols based on BDO and biodiacids and applied with very good results to PIR foams and PU adhesives, which show better performance, although at a slightly higher price, than fossil-based equivalents.
A demonstration of the products’ performances was then made in different applications, with the biophenolic resins in MDF and plywood and the biopolyesterpolyols in PIR foams and PU adhesives. A DEMO house was then built using a multilayer system fully based on these REHAP products.
Processes to obtain intermediates from bark and wheat straw were also implemented and new projects will continue this work to produce these intermediates at the industrial scale (OPTIBARK). Several REHAP partners will be involved in this continuing work.
With these successes, REHAP is expected to have significant impact in the bioeconomy, with associated benefits for society in terms of job creation and a reduction in the use of fossil-based products. Biophenolic resins for wood panels, for example, have the potential to reduce fossil-based materials by 1.17 million tons a year, while rigid bio-PU insulation by 4.67million tons, adhesives used in the construction sector by 2 million tons and butanediol intermediate chemicals also by 2 million tons.
The processes used in REHAP materials also reduce energy use and CO2 emissions compared to their fossil-based equivalents, with biophenolic resins for wood panels by up to 47%, superplasticisers for cements by up to 216%, rigid bio-PU insulation by 16% and adhesives for use in the construction sector by 52%.
Lower prices are also predicted over the fossil alternatives due to the optimisation of the processes, the use of waste materials, the revalorisation of the sidestreams and the better performance in some cases.
The companies from the project already involved in the exploitation of these results are predicting the creation of 50 new jobs themselves, while indirect new jobs likely to be created due to REHAP activities are predicted to be 200.
Finally, the project’s dissemination activity and exploitation planning were also praised by reviewers. Insight Media coordinated this activity, ensuring the project’s results were disseminated widely to industry, research organisations, policy makers and, through widespread media communication, to the public at large. This activity focused on events, workshops, and direct contact, as well as using posters, factsheets, video, newsletters and press releases and social media, as well as extensive networking.
Exploitation planning was also led by Insight, ensuring clear pathways to commercialisation were set out for 21 of the most promising results achieved by the project over five years. This comprehensive approach laid out clear action plans for partners to follow that will, over the coming years, deliver real impact to partners’ bottom lines as well as to the bioeconomy as a whole.