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Brief Published: 11 Mar 2021

Paper-Derived Building Material for Zero-Waste Future


Driven by aspirations for lower-impact construction materials, Spanish start-up Honext has developed a sustainable material using enzymes and cellulose waste from the paper industry. The responsible fibreboard, an alternative to materials like MDF and plasterboard, boasts a notable fully circular, local and ‘healthy’ processing model.

To make the material, cellulose residue (paper mill sludge) is harvested from local mills, analysed and then sorted into compositions based on quality.

These fibres, which have already been through several reuse cycles, are too short to be repurposed again and typically end up in landfill or burned as fuel – a waste stream estimated at seven million tonnes globally a year, according to Honext.

Honext combines these short fibres together using an enzymatic treatment, where cellulose-producing enzymes are added to the mix as a binder, removing the need for non-recyclable resins and glues. Non-toxic additives are then incorporated to improve the material’s UV resistance, before the mixture is compressed, shaped and dried, ready for use. 

The end result, which is suitable for interior partitions and cladding, is a durable, lightweight and infinitely recyclable material with properties that rival existing counterparts (including moisture resistance and thermal insulation).

As well as circularity (end-of-life boards can be fed back into the production cycle to create new products), Honext’s reputable manufacturing process is designed to have zero environmental impact. Gas and electricity are generated through local waste digestion; any process water is reused in a closed circuit; and the use of local waste eliminates long-distance transportation, thus enabling a negative carbon footprint. 

Aside from its sustainability credentials (including a Silver Cradle to Cradle certification), the material is deemed ‘healthy’ as it contains no formaldehyde or other semi-volatile organic compounds – a crucial consideration going forward. See Healthy Materials for Post-Pandemic Living for more insight.

For more progressive materials aimed at improving our future built environments, see Materials for Future Cities.