Organics / December 10, 2019

New Project Seeks to Repurpose Pineapple Waste Into Paper

A research project at Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany has developed a method of producing paper using leftover pineapple crowns, providing a solution to a widespread problem in the pineapple industry. The Musa Fibra Project’s innovative solution extracts cellulose from the crowns, producing a sustainable paper alternative that requires no chlorine bleaching. Large pineapple plantations can produce hundreds of tons of wasted crowns per week, and the resulting unused biomass can become a haven for a local fly species that harms nearby cattle populations. Farmfolio spoke with project director Niklas Tegtmeier about the origins of the project and its plans for the future.

What turned your attention to reutilizing pineapple crowns as a conservation effort?

Our project started with extracting the cellulose from green banana peels. After we had developed a method for the peels, we visited our cooperation partner, the research institute Cenibiot, in Costa Rica. We learned that the bananas that are not exported are sold on the local market or reused for other purposes. The pineapple crowns are a much bigger problem on the plantations. Back in Germany we adjusted our extraction process to pineapple cellulose and were quickly able to produce our first paper. This year we travelled to Costa Rica again and got in touch with new cooperation partners like for example pineapple plantations or the agriculture ministry, which were very enthusiastic and supporting about our project.

What are the challenges to implementing this project on an industrial scale?

Currently we are extracting the cellulose and producing the paper on a laboratory scale. On this scale it works very well. For the scale-up we need the right devices and other equipment, which is of course expensive. We are a student project, so our financial resources are very limited. Therefore the financing is one of our main challenges. In addition, we are currently examining whether our process is patentable. For the scale-up on an industrial scale the patentability must be clarified.

How does the paper compare to conventional paper?

One of our project leaders wrote her bachelor thesis about the characterization of the pineapple cellulose and compared these fibers with conventional fibers from the birch tree. Our extracted cellulose does not differ from the usual cellulose significantly. With the appropriate equipment it is therefore possible to produce all kinds of paper products from our pineapple cellulose. Our product is even printable without any surface treatment, which is definitely not common in the conventional paper industry. We can use different types of impregnations for different uses, for strength, durability and water resistance.

The Musa Fibra Project has found an innovative solution to the pineapple waste problem that could result in a sustainable and profitable industry. If the team find solutions to the patenting and financing questions, it will be able to implement the project on an industrial scale, producing everything from business cards to notebook paper to boxes for transportation. Musa Fibra has found a creative solution to a problem within the pineapple supply chain, and Farmfolio will be keeping a close eye on the project as it moves forward.