The production of renewable resources has increased signficantly in recent years. However, one essential question remains: Wouldn't it be better to strive for an increase in the cascade utilisation of renewable resources? Cascade utilisation works to get the most out of a raw material – including the chemical (multiple) use of the resource – before it is used to generate power at the end of the life cycle (see Figure 1). Fluctuations in the quantity and quality of harvested plants as well as changes and variables that arise from multiple use are just a few of the challenges to creating a value chain and require careful planning. The needs of the companies involved must also be considered, which makes it necessary to perform a multi-criteria analysis of the varying preferences of those involved in the network.

The main focus of the research training group is to develop methods for configuring and optimising resource-efficient value networks for renewable resources. Research will focus on examining and improving the interaction of existing methods from forestry, materials sciences (specifically process technology), business administration, business information systems and mathematics, and to develop new concepts and methods to improve resource efficiency in corporate networks.

Figure 1: Diagram of optimised cascade utilisation. Arrows equate mass flows.

Three levels of the value chain and two steering cross-divisional functions have been taken into consideration: On the first level, producers of products containing renewable resources must decide which product combinations they can offer based on both price and intended use, which enables the definition of quality and availability of the products. On the second level, customers and refiners focus on planning efficient production. The products' acceptance and sales potential as well as hybrid services of wholesalers and end users form the third level. A network perspective should be used to find an efficient solution for recurrent planning and distribution problems for all participants as part of efforts to find the best-possible solution for the entire network. An information management vantage point raises the question of how to provide individual members as well as the entire network with crucial information using familiar and enhanced methods of business information systems.

The current competition for resources is especially acute in the forestry and timber industries which compete with the growing bioenergy sector. The research training group will focus on developing methods for both wood as a resource and lignocellulosic biomass. Lignocellulosic biomass is all vegetable-based fibrous raw material which consist primarily of cellulose, hemicelluloses and lignin. Bast plants like hemp and flax as well as grasses like Miscanthus and reed are also counted among lignocellulosic biomass. These fibrous raw materials can also act as an alternative resource base for the timber industry.

In order to limit the research topics for the participating post-graduates, only the value chains and networks that produce and process selected products will be included. The following products form a thematic group for the proposed research training group to investigate for the industrial cascade utilisation of lignocellulosic biomass from forestry and agriculture using practical examples.

(1) Well-established production processes in the manufacturing industry will be examined by investigating the production of wood particle and wood fibre-based panel materials. This includes single- and multilayer chipboard, fibre board (MDF, HDF, vapour-permeable fibre board, fibre insulating boards) and lightweight wood composite materials, which will be examined for their production and usage efficiency.

(2) Wood pulp (Cellulose) will be analysed as an established resource in the process industry. Scientists are looking for improved utilisation of the resulting combined production processes with multiple outputs such as lignin and hemicelluloses (e.g. bio ethanol, furfural, xylitol, phenolic resins, dispersing agents and aggregates for asphalt). These types of companion products can sometimes be won from the production of timber products ("timber bio refinery“).

(3) Innovative Wood Polymer Composites (WPC) and different innovative fibre material alternatives will be examined due to their strong market growth during the last years.

While these key products have been selected because of their current popularity, they also offer enough variation to allow the methods that are developed to be generalised and applied to other materials. Emphasis will be placed on looking at how variations in the quality and quantities of the raw materials available affect production and logistics planning. New procedures will be developed that are appropriate for finding the best-possible solutions to meet a number of criteria as well as for online optimisation and hierarchical production planning. Data collection using tracking & tracing systems as well as methods for lifecycle assessment will be expanded to meet the needs of the networks involved. Other goals include adjusting and optimising computer-aided production planning and sustainability reporting.

Information infrastructures, software applications and data formats will be developed that meet the needs of all companies involved in a network. Qualitative and quantitative corporate IT methods will be used to monitor and develop control mechanisms for potential variations in the raw materials and fluctuations at the network partners. The guidelines and standards necessary for managing information between companies will also be developed and established. This includes shaping the relationship between business partners as well as researching product acceptance with consumers and business partners. This issue will be investigated from both an information management and marketing standpoint. On an organisational level, the group will look at what exemplary structure best meets the network's goals and what inducements can be used to improve the achievement of the objectives. Since the main research question focuses on operational methods for increasing the efficiency of resource usage within a network, economic tools offered by institutions outside the network won't be considered. The research training group will be divided into three topical groups, i.e. "A. Material sciences – the classification and modification of renewable resources and their by-products for use in industrial networks", "B. Planning of production and supply chains for renewable resources", and "C. Governance, coordination and distribution".

Further information regarding the topics and dissertation projects of the RTG

Further literature