Swedish forest soon as performance material on football fields

In 2017, the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency sounded the alarm about the use of plastic granules on artificial turf pitches. That set the idea for the BioPitch project in BioInnovation in motion – the development of a forest-based infill material for artificial turf pitches. Five years later, more precisely on the 7th of July 2022, Swedish industrial history was written in Solna. Sweden’s first forest-based performance material for artificial turf pitches was installed at Råstasjön’s sports ground, with Sweden’s national football stadium as the backdrop.

Robin Johansson, Stockholm Football Association Photo: Johan Olsson.

Within the BioPitch project, in the space of a few years, we have gone from a lab scale development of a forest-based infill material for artificial turf pitches, to scaling up production to several tons for evaluation on a five-a-side football pitch.

Robin Johansson, facility manager at the Stockholm Football Association, has been leading the project.

– BioPitch is really exciting and a fun project to work with. The project is delivering according to plan. This success depends entirely on the composition of competent project partners covering the entire area from the raw material to the finished product. Through collaboration, we have achieved the development of a product that is well adapted to today’s environmental requirements, and to both the functional demands of the game and to the safety features for the end user – our football players, he says.

The infill product has been approved by FIFA, the international world governing body for football, and will now be tested in a real football environment for a year. Next summer, Robin and his project colleagues hope to be able to report a positive result from the tests.

– Then we hope we can take the process forward, and make BioPitch the global product we all hope it will become, Robin adds.

Material with a light climate footprint – available in large volumes

Klas Esbo, Lignin Industries. Photo Johan Olsson.

Two thirds of the material that has been scaled up currently consists of residual streams from the forest, which are readily available in large volumes. In particular, the material consists of lignin – a residual product from the forest industry, which can easily be refined into an effective biomaterial. Lignin Industries is the company that has developed a method of producing bioplastic, which is one of the components of BioPitch. The other ingredients in BioPitch are sawdust and a binding agent.

– Lignin has a very light climate footprint and is also found in countless quantities here in Scandinavia. Lignin makes up around 25% of the material composition of trees. The modified lignin is water-repellent, which is particularly important here in Sweden, as frost and ice can eventually make the material crack, says Klas Esbo, Site Manager at Lignin Industries.

In parallel, the project is looking at the possibility of achieving a completely bio-based infill material.

Marielle Henriksson and Stig Bardage from RISE. Photo: Johan Olsson.

– The current challenge is to identify a binder that has the right properties and is also available in sufficient quantity, but we are making good progress, says Marielle Henriksson, researcher at RISE Research Institutes of Sweden.

She emphasizes that it has been incredibly satisfying to participate in a project that can so clearly contribute to the changeover of materials.

– If the players’ evaluation turns out well, there’s great potential that we will soon see infill material from Swedish forest raw materials on football fields around the world, she says.

Contributing to the reduction of microplastics and fossil materials

For the municipality of Solna, another project party, the BioPitch project is highly valued because of its contribution to new, reliable knowledge before political decisions are made.

– We want to contribute to reducing the spread of microplastics, at the same time the surface has to work well for the football players using our artificial turf pitches. If we can also contribute to finding fossil-free materials that are residual products from the Swedish forest industry, then the environmental benefit is doubled, says Peter Edholm (Liberal), Municipal Commissioner for Culture and Recreation in Solna, whose political responsibility also includes Solna’s sports facilities.

Read the BioPitch project page