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Environmentally Friendly Paper Made from Pineapple Fibres

Environmentally Friendly Paper Made from Pineapple Fibres

Press release from
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[Translate to English:] Eine Ananaskrone von oben.

Student project Musa Fibra awarded start-up funding amounting to 33,000 euros

Students at Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) have identified a brilliant and environmentally friendly alternative to paper made from wood pulp - by using waste products from pineapple plants. The procedure will soon be implemented in a pilot facility located on a partner plantation in Costa Rica and is expected to create new jobs. The young entrepreneurs of Musa Fibra intend to market their product in various locations, such as in Lower Saxony.

Three members of the team consisting of 14 students have now been granted funding by the State of Lower Saxony amounting to 33,000 euros - the 100th grant awarded in the context of a start-up programme established in May 2019 by the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation of Lower Saxony. The programme addresses start-ups (maximum of 3 grants per start-up) promoted by a higher education institution, a start-up centre or another accelerator. Musa Fibra is part of the student initiative Enactus, which aims to solve global, social and ecological issues through entrepreneurship. With more than 70,000 student members, Enactus is one of the largest entrepreneurship initiatives worldwide. Enactus Hannover has already produced numerous promising projects in various countries.

The Musa Fibra team's vision is to avoid the felling of trees for paper production. Due to the increased consumption of paper around the world, approximately one out of five trees is used in the context of paper production. "At the same time, using pineapple waste would solve an enormous disposal issue in countries located near the equator, where pineapples are grown", says Niklas Tegtmeier, a LUH student studying Plant Biotechnology. Dr. Bernd Althusmann - Minister of Economic Affairs, Employment, Transport and Digitalisation - recently presented Tegtmeier and his team with the grant certificate.

Per week, up to 300 tons of plant remains accumulate on pineapple plantations in Costa Rica, the international market leader in the pineapple trade. Since composting the thick pineapple leaves is quite difficult, they are usually burned, ploughed back in a labour-intensive procedure or treated with chemicals to dehydrate them. Moreover, waste products remaining on the fields are a breeding ground for mosquitoes, which infest local livestock resulting in loss of earnings for stock farmers.

In the laboratories of the Institute of Technical Chemistry, the Musa Fibra team has developed a new procedure for extracting cellulose from pineapple leaves, which can be used as a substitute for wood pulp such as in paper production. Musa Fibra has already received enquiries from the industry. In the context of two project-related trips to Costa Rica, the team succeeded in building a comprehensive network, such as with the persons in charge of the pineapple plantations or the German Costa Rican Chamber of Industry and Commerce. In addition, the project was promoted by the CENIBIOT research institute and UTN University in Costa Rica.

Musa Fibra uses a chemical procedure to extract cellulose from pineapple leaves by means of non-toxic chemicals. In contrast to conventional paper production, the team deliberately refrains from utilising substances that contain chlorine used for bleaching and aims to minimise water consumption. "Wood contains a high percentage of lignin", explains Merit Ulmer, a LUH student. "For this reason, separating cross-linked lignins is a lot more complicated. The lignin content in pineapple leaves is significantly lower, enabling us to apply a simpler procedure." Professor Thomas Scheper from the Institute of Technical Chemistry at LUH supports his students: "They have developed a sophisticated and sound procedure."

In Costa Rica, there is a great deal of interest in the Musa Fibra concept. Next year, the students plan to implement a pilot facility on the first partner plantation located in the northern part of the country in order to demonstrate how cellulose can be produced from pineapple waste in a profitable manner. Furthermore, the project is expected to create new jobs in one of Costa Rica's poorest regions. The produced pulp will be exported to Germany and marketed to enterprises passionate about sustainability. The chain of custody will be transparent allowing end customers to learn about the benefits of pineapple paper - both for people and for nature.

Note to editors:
For further information, please contact Merit Ulmer at merit.ulmer@unihannover.enactus.de.