Our quest for a biodegradable granule

Getting us to where we are today - a proud team behind the first granule with provenly degradable residuals - was certainly no picnic, but a journey we have learned greatly from.

We sat down to reminisce and reflect on the trials and tribulations of our quest with two instrumental and key team members: Sustainability Manager, Åsa Håkansson and Laboratory Manager, Isak Svenningsson.

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Meet Åsa and Isak

Åsa Håkansson and Isak Svenningsson are both valued and trusted colleagues within our Research and Development team, and based at the Nordisk Clean Solutions headquarter in Malmö, Sweden.

Both have been absolutely instrumental in the development, testing, and finally launching of PowerGranules BIO - the first partly biobased polymer granule with proven degradability in soil.

The degradation and stabilization dilemma

”Biodegradable. How hard can it be?”

Well, quite hard it would prove. We set out to find a material that would stay solid and efficiently scour pots and pans clean in our pot washers, and then degrade and vanish into thin air when we’re done with it.

The degradable qualities would of course also impact more practical matters, such as how we package, store, and dispose of it.

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That was the tricky part

-  We wanted it to degrade - but not until we said so. Until that, it needed to withstand food scraps, water, high temperatures, detergent, and rinse aid. And then, at the end of its life, obediently degrade in contact with microorganisms, says Isak.

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Dependable shelf-life

- That was one of the main reasons why we chose plastic packaging, even though wanted to minimize plastic, explains Åsa. We needed to be able to control the material up until the moment it was put to use. Basically ”stop time” until we wanted it to start ticking again. Plastic is great for that. This way we know that the granules can safely be stored in warehouses before their intended use, and last exactly as long as the box says. In the beginning we only dared promise 1 year, but we recently prolonged that to 2 since we’ve gained experience and know that they will keep.

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Responsibly sourced

In our quest we scoured the market for biodegradable polymers that would fit the bill – upstream and downstream.

- We always investigate our products' entire value chain, which means we need to be well-informed when it comes to both how the material is created, as well as how it behaves after it leaves our hands. This led us to consider and reject several seemingly great alternatives for reasons such as containing palm oil, in favor of our final choice which instead uses rapeseed oil, says Åsa.

Even the smallest details matter

Along the way, we would also learn that things could change in an instant and out of nowhere. Such as simply substituting one of the raw materials in the recipe with another.

- I remember the first time it happened - I was quite new to the company. Overnight, the granule just wouldn’t work anymore. It would just turn into mush. We had no clue what had changed. We had a couple of occasions like that, where we simply had to play detectives and question everything to find what was wrong... Many hours later we finally had a stable granule again, says Åsa, and had made the valuable learning that the smallest and seemingly most insignificant detail may potentially turn the tables completely.

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The importance of shape and size

Round, square, cheese doodley, or spheric. Size and shape – and the consistency therein - matter more than one might think.

Finding - and then being able to reproduce - the perfect shape, size, and density would prove crucial to the wash result. Also, the wash system and volume of granules played a vital part, and straying from either would directly impact how the granules move around in the wash system. It’s a matter of balance.

Variations in water quality

Water quality is a detail that impacts the granules' stability greatly. Along the way, we learned that water conditions such as reverse osmosis create a more aggressive water, that would start wearing the granules down prematurely.

- These issues are not yet completely solved, but we're happy that a majority of our customers worldwide can now use PowerGranules BIO, says Isak.

Meanwhile, the work with the next generation of bio granules - which are stable even in tricky water conditions - is constantly ongoing. With great hopes of new launches within a few years.

Degradation tests

Breaking new ground is no easy task, and sometimes you simply don't know which way to turn. As was the case in our journey.

- We knew that our base material was partly biobased, biodegradable, and responsibly sourced. But our brand - PowerGranules BIO - also needed to be provenly degradable for us to be able to claim it, says Åsa.

So, let's just get the tests done!

"How hard can it be?"

Again - quite hard. First of all, we needed to test the product against something the world would agree upon - and since the material was so new, it was hard to find a standard to test against.

When we finally had an ISO standard identified - more precisely ISO EN17556:2019 - we thought the goal was finally visible on the horizon. “OK, great! NOW can we have the results?”

- Turns out, when it comes to testing the natural degradation of something there are no cutting corners. Natural degradation simply takes time. And since there is no rushing nature, we just had to start the process and obediently sit back and wait for results, says Åsa.

We tested our particles at RISE test facilities EN/ISO 17556 from spring 2022 to 2024. Two years down the line we are finally there and can now truthfully claim that the particles generated when using PowerGranules BIO in Nor:disk ware washers are biodegradable in soil.

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Patient customers, 10.000 questions, and 3 big boxes of samples later...

- We have spent countless hours on the phone with customers and on our hands and knees in washrooms to learn and adapt to different issues that have arisen in the kitchens of our end users. And I've probably gone through three of these, laughs Åsa showing the huge trunks which hold years of granule samples from different sites.

The future

The granule we have today is the best we have come up with - so far. And even if we would love for everyone to use our granules, we cannot guarantee stability, degradability, or function if the granules are used in other pot washers.

Meanwhile, our hunt for an even better, more stable - yet degradable - granule continues. We are already sketching out the next version. Our granule ware washing customers are dependent on a swift, efficient, resource-smart, and reliable wash solution and we will not let them down. Granule technology is here to stay.

PowerGranules BIO  ♥  Nor:disk - a match made in R&D

PowerGranules BIO has been developed, tested, and perfected to be used in Nor:disk products. We have even made modifications to our products to respect the granules - it simply goes both ways.

- That’s why we can’t recommend using our granules in other pot washers. We simply can’t promise results, says Åsa.

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Thank you

We would like to take this opportunity to recognize the fantastic team that has been working with such determination and dedication on this project, never leaving anything to chance or any stones unturned. It’s an honor to have you, Åsa, Isak along with Pontus Nordfeldt and Staffan Stegmark, just to name a few of the more deeply involved.

We would also like to thank our former Quality & Sustainability manager, Anna Johansson, for her great contributions in the early stages, pointing us in the right direction and setting up a framework to work from.

Last but not least - a big thanks again to the fantastic Tomas Fridén with Rekal for your countless customer visits, tireless dedication, and endless support.