Nature managers, companies and knowledge institutes in the border region of Flanders and the Netherlands are giving remnants of nature management a second life with the Interreg project ‘GrasGoed Natuurlijk Groen als Grondstof’.

In the management of wet areas (e.g. reed land, wet grasslands, damp heathland) the clippings are often not used, or only to a limited extent. Too bad, because thousands of tons of grass clippings are released there every year. Not only is it logistically difficult to remove the clippings from the areas, but dumping clippings is also an expensive affair. This project aims to solve these problems by improving mowing, transport and processing machines, developing new products and creating a market.

‘GrasGoed – Natuurlijk Groen als Grondstof’ thus creates sustainable supply, collection, processing and sales chains. The focus is on three nature reserves in de border region, namely Grenspark De Zoom-Kalmthoutse Heide, Altena-Biesbosch-Vlijmens Ven and Dommeldal-Vallei of the Zwarte Beek.

Who participates in the project?

Within GrasGoed, eleven partners are working together on solutions to create new supply chains. In Flanders these are Natuurpunt, Inverde, Grenspark De Zoom-Kalmthoutse Heide, Vandervelden Algemene Bosbouw. In the Netherlands, there are Natuurmonumenten, Stichting het Noord-Brabants Landschap, Avans Hogeschool, Verschoor Groen en Recreatie, NF Fibre, Millvision and Grassa.

Who supports the project?

Interreg Vlaanderen-Nederland subsidizes cross-border projects for smart, green and inclusive growth. The European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) funds it.

The project also receives an important subsidy from the province of Antwerp and the province of Noord-Brabant and is currently looking for additional financing for the project.

 “What ’mows’ around, comes around”

Give grass clippings a second life as a sustainable product. GrasGoed wants to achieve this. We bring together as much grassy biomass as possible in three regions to arrive at an economically interesting amount. To this end, we are improving mowing, roughing and transport systems. This way, dry grass clippings are transported more efficiently from nature.

We are also improving machines that break the cell structures in the grass and separate it into fibres, proteins and juices. Finally, we develop new, regional products based on those fibres, proteins and cell juices. Examples are paper and cardboard, insulation material or peat-free potting soil made from grass fibres. We try to further use the protein concentrate and mineral rich juice as animal feed or soil improver.

From grass, through good(s), to better, results from GrasGoed

GrasGoed has been running for almost three years no wand many results have been achieved. At the start of the project, we quickly got a picture of the types and quantities of residual flows that are released in the project areas (Grenspark Klamthoutse Heide, Altena-Biesbosch and Vlijmens Ven, Dommeldal en Vallei of the Zwarte Beek). This inventory can be viewed on the map.

Later, an economic analysis and a financial model were also developed. The model maps the costs and benefits of the entire chain from nature manager, transporter to processing into a product. The findings regarding the inventory and economic analysis of the biomass flows were brought together in an extensive report.

In addition to these studies, GrasGoed was also active in the field. For example, pits were laid of natural grass (including white bulb, annual reed, sedges, pitrus and lidrus). With these pits, the grass scan be stored for a longer period of time and it is available for experiments all year round. In addition, fresh grass clippings were separated on site into fibres, proteins and residual juices using a mobile grass biorefinery.

Both grass (ensiled and fresh) and grass fibres were examined to see whether they could be used for potential end products. Within GrasGoed we focus on four products, namely grass paper, peat-free potting soil and soil improver, animal feed and insulating mats. For example, grass proteins used in chicken feed and grass fibres were used as raw materials for insulating mats. We are currently conducting an LCA (Life Cycle Analysis) for there two products. For example, we investigate how environmentally friendly these applications really are. Business cases and marketing plans are currently being developed for all four products.

Based on the first tests, the biorefinery system was adapted and redesigned. What is special about GrasGoed is that not only the grass processing process, but also all previous steps were critically examined, with a focus on the logistics process from mowing to grass processor.

Adapted mowing and transport machines have been developed that manage the mowing work on wet terrain and those can quickly and efficiently remove the clippings from the terrain. Only in this way can the clippings be used for processing into sustainable products.

This year, the last mowing season is within the project and the last tests are being started to fine-tune the mowing, transport and processing machines.

Finally, GrasGoed took the first cautious steps to the market with some prototypes of a commercial product. For example, Gramitherm produced the first insulating mats based on natural grass and these were also put to good use by the Flemish and Dutch nature managers. The Zwartopwit printing company also included the first GrasGoed grass paper in its range. AVA Papierwaren joined and had a notebook made of the grass paper.

The role of Grassa-BV

Within GrasGoed, Grassa-BV is responsible for the development of biorefining technology for the extraction of, among other things, protein from natural cuttings. At the start of the project, Grassa-BV already had a simple biorefining system with which cultivated grass could be processed on a small scale into ensiled fibres and grass protein.

Within the GrasGoed project, this refining system has taken several important steps towards growth. It turned out that natural cuttings were significantly tougher than the juicy cultivated grass. This forced Grassa to return to the drawing board for the first step in the process: juice extraction from het grass. In the end, a completely different design emerged from the Grassa design team. Unexpectedly, this new design has a number of advantages. The fast moving parts are gone, the energy consumption has dropped significantly (by a factor of four!), the protein yield has increased, the capacity has increased tenfold and the machine is much more reliable. This enabled Grassa-BV to continue up scaling.

In addition to the press section, much has also changed in the second separation step. In this, the coagulated protein is separated from the juice. This was initially done with a centrifuge. This is an expensive, energy intensive separation method. Grassa-BV has managed to coagulate the protein in such a way that it can be extracted via a filter technique.

During the GrasGoed project, the range of products expanded even further. Valuable substances are isolated from the grass by means of membrane filtration.

Grow with us

There may also be a place for you within GrasGoed. A lot of product scan be developed with clippings, but the market is still new. Together with developers of bio based products, we would like to open up the market. We invite companies and institutions that want to operate sustainably and socially to jointly examine how this is possible with the use of new bio based products. We also regularly organize demonstrations and expert meetings where you can participate.

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