Spain to ‘grow’ recyclable construction material

A flagship factory producing recyclable house-building materials from a hibiscus-like plant called kenaf is to be built in the Spanish countryside, supported by millions of euros in government grants.

UK-based sustainable technology company SPDG will start work on the 10.8m Euro project later this year after the Spanish federal government handed it 1.97m Euros non-refundable grant. Another 1.3m is expected to come from regional bodies near Albecete in the Castilla-La-Mancha region where the factory is to be built.

The plant will be capable of processing 10,000 tonnes of locally-grown kenaf into fully recyclable materials that can replace glass-reinforced plastics and fibre-glass in the construction, motor and electronics industries.

“We have made most parts of a house during trials, including shingles, decking and internal walls,” SPDG’s chief executive officer Michael Cunningham told edie.

Other uses include everything from mobile phone covers to the internal fittings of cars, he said, adding that apart from its environmental credentials kenaf also wins on performance and cost. And, with European environmental legislation requiring more and more products to be recyclable, the market for bio-composite materials is growing. The End-of-Life directive is one example, obliging car manufactures to make 85% of each vehicle from recyclable materials.

But the main reason the Spanish government has allocated millions of Euros in non-refundable grants to the project is not to do with its green credentials, but with the jobs it will bring to a rural economy suffering from a population drain into the cities.

Because the entire production loop of the material will be kept local, from growing and harvesting fields of kenaf to fibre processing and production, the new factory should bring much needed jobs to the region. The Spanish government is hoping that projects like this can help arrest the migration of your people into the cities.

“When you put the value added into the countryside you drive up the rural economy,” said Michael Cunningham, whose company runs similar projects across the world, from China to Africa.

“We came up with the concept in response to the collapse of rural economies world-wide, which is a problem any government has to address. Countries like Spain or France are terrified of that happening,” he said.

More details on SPDG’s research and projects can be found on their website.

Goska Romanowicz

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie