From reed to raw material

In the sprawling Dnieper delta, where the mainland is replaced by ever smaller outcrops of land, thrives the fastest-growing renewable source of energy in huge quantities: reeds. It perhaps doesn’t come as a surprise that the locals have meanwhile developed ways to monetise this raw material that is available in such abundance.

The Kherson-based company Dobrobud manufactures several kinds of fuel briquettes and pellets from reeds. Depending on the type, the heat value is not much different to that of coal. Dobrobud also has the know-how to make the reeds into oriented strand boards (OSB), insulation materials, fertilisers and food supplements. Just recently, a plant producing OSB from reed chippings opened in neighbouring Kazakhstan. Pilot projects for the production of insulation materials and fertilisers have been a success.

Company director Oksana Shevchenko came to Germany to find customers for her products and cooperation partners for further processing of the reed material – with a focus on building materials. Her visit happened to coincide with the reclassification of polystyrene-based insulation materials as hazardous waste. Not only the disposal of old insulation materials but also the costs of environmentally-friendly materials are already presenting a problem from a great many German property owners.

In this constructive field of tension, the German company Wetland Products used the contact with Shevchenko facilitated by the MP to sound out opportunities for cooperation for the use of reeds as a building material. Reeds are not yet considered for this purpose in Germany – indeed, useful quantities thrive here almost exclusively in nature protection areas. And at best, the according enquiries (e.g. to the Fachagentur Nachwachsender Rohstoffe e. V.), relate to the traditional form of roofing for North German farmhouses that is extremely rare these days. According to the head of Wetland Products, Aldert van Weeren, construction and insulation materials made from reeds are still a thing of the future in Germany. However a market undoubtedly exists in the medium term, which can slowly be built up when the consequences of the classification of polystyrene as hazardous waste have largely come into effect and the focus has shifted to identifying sustainable alternatives such as the extremely fast-growing reeds.

The associated opportunities should already be secured today. Shevchenko was also able to sell the first two tonnes of reed briquettes to German companies during her time in Germany – as product samples and for testing. Dobrobud remains open to all contacts; cooperation partners are being sought for further processing of the raw material (e.g. for OSB and insulation materials).

These days, Ukrainian companies often participate in the MP with the aim of opening up new markets for their products in Germany and Europe. Many of the Ukrainian and Moldovan participants, who completed their training at the NBL in Dresden in autumn 2016, have set themselves this business goal. Partners interested in products made from reeds, but also buyers for ice cream products and in the field of window construction are being sought. As a rule, the quality and certification required for the European market do not present an obstacle to Ukrainian companies. Rather, following the loss of their traditional markets, the difficulty lies in gaining a foothold in the EU market, which – while now open thanks to a free trade agreement – is already very saturated in a great many sectors.

The experiences within the MP during which business and communication skills for dealing with German partners are imparted undoubtedly facilitates attainment of this goal. Oksana Shevchenko from Dobrobud certainly now has a good insight into her potential target market and the opportunities that exist following her time in Germany. With this knowledge, the experience gained during the MP in Germany and the vast quantities of renewable raw materials available for production, she is well-prepared for the future.