Seven-figure funding for rice-husk building material

A company that turns rice husks into a virtually waterproof wood substitute has received a seven-figure sum from a UK investment firm.

German firm Resysta has developed a hard-wearing building material that looks and feels like wood but is recyclable, extremely resistant to water and made from rice husks — an abundant waste product that is also used for insulation, fertiliser and fuel.

This makes the material useful for outdoor building and furniture — particularly in coastal regions or areas where it rains often — and could help reduce global consumption of hardwoods.

‘It’s cost competitive,’ said Jörg Sperling of WHEB Partners, a London-based private equity firm that specialises in environmentally friendly technology and has invested a high seven-digit Euro amount in Resysta.

‘With low-end wood we cannot compete price-wise,’ he told The Engineer. It will work in harsher environments where the alternative is replacing wood every couple of years.

’There’s an almost indefinite supply of rice husks and a lot of the excess material is put to wasteland or burnt.’

The material is made from around 60 per cent rice husks, which mainly consist of cellulose, as well as 22 per cent rock salt and 18 per cent petroleum.

‘The perfect ratio of rice-husk cellulose and vinyl polymer makes Resysta workable just like wood,’ said Resysta’s international sales manager, Roland Stoiber.

‘Water cannot penetrate Resysta [because] the material is not hygroscopic and therefore does not absorb water. If the varnished surface is damaged, water will not penetrate the Resysta or cause additional surface deterioration.’

The mixture of cellulose and polymer also acts as an anti-static, making it easier to coat the material with varnish or adhesive.

The product is already being used for outdoor cladding and decking at a number of upmarket hotels and resorts around the world, but the company doesn’t want to limit itself to this market and is in talks with two large US hardware store chains.

The largest market is the US, but also places such as South Africa and Australia where wood is used a lot in building outside,’ said Sperling. ‘In developing countries it would be difficult to compete with cheap local wood and cheap labour.’

Resysta was originally part of outdoor furniture manufacturer MBM, but became a separate company with the help of WHEB Partners.