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Useful materials from plastic waste?

Is it possible to reduce plastic wastes, save water resources, develop bio-composite materials and increase employment?

The BioHome project (, based at University of Hamburg in collaboration with Thünen Institute of Wood Research, Stellenbosch University and Addis Ababa technical University faces these challenges. It aims to develop bio-based composite materials for affordable housing compartments combining secondary resources such as low quality recycled plastic and fly ash with lignocellulosic feed-stocks, such as wood from invasive plants.

Marco De Angelis, an Italian researcher part of the project team in Hamburg and now in Stellenbosch for a two months’ research exchange, explains us more about the Biohome.

Plastic it`s part of our everyday life. About one trillion single-use plastic bags are used annually across the globe. That’s nearly 2 million every minute ( and plastic waste are on top of the news for polluting our soil and ocean. The fly ash usually destined to landfilling are the result of the production of electricity from coal power plants, still numerous in sub-Saharan Africa.

Eucalyptus and various species of Acacia not native of Africa are in competition with local plants and for water feedstock contributing to dryness of the soil and reducing biodiversity. The “Working for water” program ( already active in South Africa since 1995, aim to reduce the land covered from this species.

We of Biohome aim to combine plastic waste, fly ash and wood from alien species in order to incentivize their removal from the environment and utilize them in added value product such as:

-Wood-plastic composites, as the name suggest, are a mix of thermoplastic and wood particles, do not corrode, are highly resistant to rot, decay, and Marine Borer attack. They can be used as low-cost construction materials and are already used for decking and cladding.

-Geopolymers made of fly ash are a relatively new class of cements that need an alkaline activator to solidify. The advantages of Geopolymers is that comparing their production with the production of Portland cement subsist a reduction up to 80% of greenhouse gasses emissions responsible for climate change.

Buildings made of these eco-composites should be a substitute for the current mainly imported building materials.

Raw materials for these composites will be analysed in terms of availability, quality and mass flow (MFA). The environmental impact of the resulting products will be evaluated in life-cycle-assessments (LCA).

The production process will be down scaled in order for the population to be able to produce the material locally and to keep it low cost.

We are a group of multinational doctoral students and we carry out the research work and develop innovative e-learning tools in order to allow us to multiply our versatile know-how. The research-oriented post-graduate training system in BioHome enables us to interact with each other in a trans-disciplinary manner. As one of the key results, the academic curriculum at partner universities will be enriched in the fields of forest product use and composite technologies.

The combination of bio-composite materials, life cycle assessment and research-driven postgraduate education shall yield valuable socioeconomic and technological advantages in Ethiopia, South Africa and Germany.

Partner Universities:

Institute for Wood Science, Germany

Thünen Institute of Wood Research, Germany

Stellenbosch University, South Africa

Addis Ababa Institute of Technology, Ethiopia


Federal Ministry of Education and Research - BMBF

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) - DAAD