Swiss-based Bern University, government discuss potential commercialization of cocoboards and tannins that will boost agri output

Photo shows BOI Executive Director Ma. Corazon Halili-Dichosa (10th from right) and Dr. Sauro Bianchi (center) together with representatives from the government and the private sector.

The Philippine Board of Investments (BOI), the country’s lead industry promotions agency (IPA) recently conducted a roundtable meeting with representatives from Swiss-based Bern University of Applied Sciences (BFH) along with government and private stakeholders from the coconut, forestry, chemical, furniture, footwear, tannery, and construction industries, to discuss the potential commercialization of cocoboard (fiberboards made of coco coir) and tannin products and its key role in further boosting agricultural output in the country.

“We should take advantage of this opportunity since we are one of the largest coconut producers in the world and we still have abundant agricultural and forestry areas. Potential investors should seriously consider these products as the upside potential is there once it gains a foothold of the market.  Commercialization will lead to greater demand that will further boost the agricultural output of the country,” BOI Executive Director Ma. Corazon Halili-Dichosa said during the meeting.

“Today, coconut husks have a negative value. The Philippines accumulates annually about five million metric tons of husks from various coconut production facilities that are normally in heaps and just left to rot. A farmer could decide to sell them as ‘bunot’ or ‘pang-gatong’ and gets about Php6 per sack,” said Dr. Sauro Bianchi, deputy head of department of the BFH, during the presentation of the cocoboard and tannin projects.

The said projects were conducted by the Philippine-Swiss Research Consortium under the financial support of the Swiss Programme for Research on Global Issues for Development (R4D Programme), jointly organized by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).

The consortium is composed of Swiss and Philippine Universities as well as government related agencies like the Department of Agriculture, Department of Science and Technology and the Department of Trade and Industry.

He cited a study done by the consortium that “the coconut husk waste could be transformed into particle boards (cocoboards) ideally suited for applications into building materials like nonstructural wall, ceiling panels and insulation boards.”

The study further noted that “if the Philippines can process even just 15 percent of the 5 million metric tons of coconut husks into cocoboards, it will result in up to 15,000 boards that could supply the current needs of the country.”  Made from 100 percent agricultural and forestry resources, Dr. Bianchi said cocoboards satisfy most international standards for wood fiberboards. Furthermore they are highly resistant to wood decay insects such as termites, have low formaldehyde emissions and their price is more competitive than other wood-based products (e.g. 30 percent cheaper than plywood). He also added the crucial role of local rural communities in the value chain once it goes into commercial production. The involvement of the local communities in the whole coconut value chain could increase the revenue per bag of coconut husk to PhP32 and a 35 percent increase of the average income of a coconut farmer is therefore forecasted.

Since 2014, Swiss researchers from Bern have been working with partner institutions in the country in developing cocoboards made of crop residue. As part of its initial industrial up-scaling, they were able to show to the public the production of 200 cocoboards. The cocoboards project is a perfect example of the circular economy concept where ecological construction panels are created from crop residues.

Furthermore, the tannin-based adhesive of cocoboards are extracted from biomass and present another industry opportunity. These projects are now open for potential investors to commercialize the production of the boards. Dr. Bianchi shared that Coco Technologies, Camalig, a local partner for the project has currently applied for patent for the production of the said Cocoboard, and would be the appropriate partner for interested local stakeholders.

Another part of the BFH study was on Pinoy Tannins and developing its extraction from biomass such as tree barks, twigs, roots, shells and fruit husks. These are yellowish or brownish bitter-tasting organic substances and are known for their antioxidant properties. It has many industrial purposes such adhesives for woods and boards and its components are used in the process of tanning leather and in the production of wine, beer, cosmetics and pharmaceutical, among others.  The Philippines imported a total of US$2 million of tannins in 2017 and 2018, mostly from South Africa for tannery or leather production.

The pilot tanning project in Leyte (Visayas State University) is covering 1.75 hectares to be planted with tannin rich species, and aim to develop and implement a low-cost extraction technology using renewable energy sources. It hopes to contribute to the creation of additional income for local communities by optimizing the valorization of agroforestry by-products.

“Around 25 million people live in the uplands, mostly depending from the forest for their livelihood and customary lifestyles. Their incomes from conventional timber and crops trading are however limited. Developing tannin extraction from biomass such as bark, twigs, roots, shells and fruit husks will improve rural livelihood,” Dr. Bianchi said.

Following the roundtable meeting, several companies that are into chemicals, engineering/construction, furniture production/distribution and plywood production who were in attendance, briefly discussed possible cooperation with Dr. Bianchi on Cocoboards and tannin production and other related possible research.


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