Hot Seat: Matthias Schwarz | Rottal Hanf GmbH

Last updated on: 01 Jul, 2024

In TeBiCE we aim to develop a market for biomass and residual materials. The objective is to find new value chains and further improve existing ones based on former waste to increase valorization and resource efficiency. In the project consortium partners from 8 regions work together to establish new circular processes utilizing the VCG.AI digital tool.

Rottal Hanf is a company based in Bavaria, that strives to fully utilize the hemp plant, from seeds to fibres, shives and dust. The goal is the development of regional value chains following the principles of bioeconomy. Matthias Schwarz, CEO at Rottal Hanf, gave us some insights on the potential of hemp for circular use that exceeds its application in the food sector.  

What is special about hemp and its use in bioeconomy? What makes it so interesting in terms of biodiversity and carbon storage?  

Hemp is a versatile raw material and is known for its high nutritional value, but other parts of the plant, such as shives and fibres, are used in construction and textiles. Its applications range from simple technical products to high performance composites. The individual components have enormous potential for regional value chain creation and use in sustainable material cycles. This allows for short transport routes, independence and resilience in the sourcing of raw materials.  

Hemp processing has a long tradition and we are familiar with established processing techniques as well as modern technologies for extracting the individual components. We can draw on the existing pool of knowledge and thus there is little need for new developments in processing.  

Hemp’s rapid growth and high biomass yields mean that it can be used as an efficient carbon sink. In addition the plant helps to reclaim soil and bind nutrients. This can increase the yield of subsequent crops by up to 20 %.   

We believe that industrial hemp will reinvent itself due to the recent interest in the bioeconomy. The cheap fossil oil based industries will change in the near future, leading to the potential to establish new technologies. This is a lever for the economically viable processing of industrial hemp  

Together with our partners, we are designing the infrastructure in such a way that newly developed products become part of a material cycle. In this way, we aim to ensure that hemp-based products remain in material use for as long as possible.  

Can you give us an example of the successful implementation of a circular concept with hemp? What are your current challenges?  

In cooperation with Steva Hemp, we have developed an end-of-life concept for hemp bed linen, in which the used fibres are reused in building boards. In this way, the bound carbon is stored in the long term and an additional step is introduced before biological or energetic recycling. 

At the moment we are challenged by the up-scaling and validation steps and their costs. We are addressing all three areas by working with different partners from different sectors to find the best solutions. One of our key roles is to educate and raise awareness among our partners. 

The applications of hemp range from nutrition to composite materials in construction or high performance products. How important is it for you to collaborate with partners in different parts of the value chain? 

Collaboration is very important to us. Every region has its strengths and weaknesses. Because hemp has low soil requirements, it can be grown in different regions.  

The definition of the intended use after harvest is crucial. This is where local partners come into play, from farmers to suppliers of residues from other sectors. Who needs what and how? What is the precise objective?  

An example from our region: A brick manufacturer supplies us with residual materials from its production, which we can process with hemp into higher-value products. 

How does the pursuit of a sustainable business model affect your business objectives? Is sustainability at odds with business, or does it actually bring economic value? 

We see an economic benefit when a sustainable business model works in the local system. It has to be beneficial for all stakeholders. That includes the farmer and the processing company, but also the end consumer who can tell his grandchildren: Look, I built this house, if you don’t like it, go ahead, tear it down and plough it under to grow new hemp. That must be possible, that must be the focus.  

No, we see new opportunities to develop benefits. For example, cooperation in communication – it must be made clear that decisions to include this fast-growing resource in their product portfolio will create an advantage for all stakeholders. This will enable better economic viability and create new environmental opportunities for the end consumer, who can make an informed choice, and for the processing company working with the products. 

What else would you like to tell us?  

Working with industrial hemp is a great enrichment for us and we are grateful to be involved with an issue that speaks of a better future. It is an opportunity for us to work towards a goal. A goal to which we give our full attention. For us, industrial hemp is a lever that can bring about change. The more people involved, the better. 

Matthias Schwarz is Managing Director and founder of Rottal Hanf GmbH. Since 2017, he has been working on the use of hemp and its integration into agricultural crop rotation. He is a trained automotive mechatronics technician with subsequent further training as a technician for vehicle technology & electromobility, gained 7 years of development experience in the automotive industry and trained in quality management.