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Compostable agricultural foam ready for the market

Foamplant, a company working on sustainable alternatives for technical foams, will perform field tests of a new product this spring. The soil biodegradable foam plugs are an alternative to potting soil or glass wool in horticulture.

‘We are currently performing the final optimization of our prototypes, which external parties will test during the spring’, says Martin Tietema, CEO of Foamplant. ‘By the summer, we will have the first results on our product.’ The product is a foam plug, made from biopolymers, which can be used in horticulture as a growth substrate. Depending on the use, different components can be added.

Biopolymer foam

‘The foam forms the basis of our products’, explains Tietema. Creating a homogenous and stable biopolymer foam for growing plants is something that hasn’t been done anywhere in the world, as far as he knows. And yet, the technology itself is some sixty years old. ‘You blow bubbles in a polymer, but the bubbles must be uniform in size, and they shouldn’t burst at the wrong time.’ There are many parameters to control during the process, and Foamplant is very good at this.

Bio degradable in soil

The biopolymers are bio degradable in soil. ‘So you don’t need an industrial composter.’ This means that it is an ideal substrate to grow plants and crops. ‘Usually, organic substrates or glass wool is used’, says Tietema. ‘But the organics don’t have a consistent quality and the glass wool cannot be mingled with organic waste.’ The foam plugs, however, can be made consistently to specific requirements. ‘This is also an advantage when you export plants with substrate: it is always the same. Our product solves real problems in horticulture.’

In February, Tietema pitched the Foamplant plugs at a meeting of Horti Heroes, a networking organization for companies and start-ups in horticulture. ‘The main players in the Dutch horticulture industry were present, as well as several start-ups.’ The pitch included the main advantages of the foam plugs: They are homogenous and consistent in quality, and their properties can be tweaked to all kinds of specification regarding air and water penetration. Furthermore, the plugs are fully biodegradable, so potted plants can be placed in a garden with their plugs attached to the roots. ‘And finally, the substrate is a firm plug that can easily be handled by robots on a production line.’

Cooperation regional companies

It is important for Foamplant to have access to ever more biodegradable and bio based polymers. That is why Tietema is enthusiastic with regional companies that aim to provide these raw materials, like BioBTX (bio based monomers) and Paques (biopolymers from organic waste). Access to knowledge is also important, as the bio based foam is the result of years of research. ‘We were helped by the knowledge and knowhow of the Chemical Engineering group at the University of Groningen’, says Tietema.

Foamplant will start commercial production of the plugs this year. Tietema: ‘First, we want to produce and test our prototype, then we will start with sales and increase our production.’ At their new location in Groningen, Foamplant can produce a few hundred million plugs per year. ‘Eventually, we expect to move again to a location where we can build a bigger production facility. And expand our product portfolio.’

See also: Foamplant

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