Biocomposite commercial initiative with crop residue (straw) and agricultural waste products (grain bags) for Shercom Industries

Posted on 06.02.2017 | Last Modified 03.08.2021
Lead Researcher (PI): Stilling, Denise
Institution: University of Regina
Total WGRF Funding: $45,337
Co-Funders: Agriculture Development Fund
Start Date: 2015
Project Length: 3 Years

To develop an innovative biocomposite material consisting of agricultural crop residue (primarily flax straw), reclaimed tire crumb and plastics from used grain bags to design a commercially successful biocomposite product.

Project Summary:

This project develops the foundation for sustainable, economic development and protects the environment through innovating value added material and products from agricultural waste streams. Creating circular economies from agricultural waste aligns with the socio-economic policies aimed at protecting our environment (i.e. Canada-wide Strategy on Zero Plastic Waste and the Net Zero Waste Strategy and SK Growth Plan, Ministry of Agriculture Strategic Plan, the Solid Waste Management Strategy and others). The focus has been to innovate composite material from end of product’s useful life for improved material sustainability resulting in new consumables; the results promotes economic development and protects the health of people and the environment.

Specifically, the research addresses agricultural waste (used grain bags, used tires, crop residue and sand) by transforming them into a marketable products; such as traffic calming devices or landscape products. In Saskatchewan, over 20,000 agriculture grain bags weighing over 3100 tonnes are consumed annually [1]. In Saskatchewan, over 21,976 tonnes of tires are recovered annually [2]. In Saskatchewan, an estimated 36.7 million acres of crops [3] produce residues (straw) which does not all have a useful purpose. Furthermore, crop residue has proven to be an excellent, annual renewable additive for improving polymer composites. This project created and characterized innovative composite materials from varying percentages of these agricultural wastes. Based on these results, the knowledge can be applied engineer consumable products for creating market pull for waste materials to become valued commodities.

Based on a comprehensive literature review of composites from polymers, natural fiber, ground tire and other materials, statistical or mathematical models of the relation among manufacturing parameters and material properties were derived. In addition, innovative composites of varying percentages of grain bags, reclaimed tire, crop residue and/or sand were manufactured and tested following American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) standards; the relations between composition and material/mechanical properties were analyzed. The experimental data verified the mathematical models, showing excellent correlations. Such equations relating manufacturing parameters to various material properties assist in engineering new composites and reduce the risk in using composites for consumable products.

Advances towards commercialization included improving traffic calming devices (speed bumps) and engineering innovative, modular landscape blocks. The speed bumps were improved by assessing the current ground tire and polyurethane material and new, alternative composites, as well as engineering design options by changing the geometry and materials. The landscape product was embodied as blocks that were formed from varying compositions of reclaimed grain bags, ground tire, and sand were manufactured; with functional and performance testing completed. Shercom prototyped and marketed a similar landscape product (“stack wall and edging”) using their proprietary ground tire-polyurethane formulation achieving good market success which suggests landscape products, as presented, may also have strong market pull.

Circular economy assessment to reform grain bags into value added products with commercialization risk analysis that examined the design, raw material sourcing, mass production, and marketing using failure mode and effect analysis was completed. Also, an integrated processing facility for reclaimed grain bags and tire processing that manufactured end products was proposed.

Although this project has been adversely impacted by several factors beyond the control of the investigators, collaborators and partners, the project has been deemed to have met the objectives. Additional investigations have been recommended. With future investment, scaling the prototype to commercial production will provide an alternative for end-of-design life products; that is, agricultural waste can be diverted from landfills and/or incineration to provide sustainable, economic development.

Extension Messages

  • Economic opportunity for upcycling Saskatchewan and neighbouring province’s used grain bags provides business diversification and entrepreneurial opportunities.
  • Innovative, landscape products for DIY and commercial industry designed low risk business opportunities. (Proof-of-concept prototypes surpasses functional and performance expectations.)
  • Economic growth opportunities shown for business diversification and entrepreneurial enterprises in collecting and processing/manufacturing of agricultural waste into value-added products.
  • Comprehensive reviews and modeling of manufacturing parameters and material properties of composites advances knowledge base and reduces risk to benefit commercial ventures in value added products from agricultural waste streams.
  • Risk assessments examined each stage of production focusing on control measures to minimize failures and economic loss for business development frameworks and modeling.