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Agrana ramps up in wheat starch, as 'paperless society' idea founders

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So much for the coming of the internet heralding a world without paper.

Agrana revealed it was doubling wheat starch capacity at its plant in Pischelsdorf in Austria to meet demand for the product from the paper industry spurred by online retailers.

The decision – four years after the Pischelsdorf facility, which is better known as Austria's only bioethanol plant, started manufacturing wheat starch – will take the site's total wheat processing capacity from 820,000 tonnes to more than 1m tonnes.

The wheat starch operations have existing capacity for 250,000 tonnes.

And the increase reflects an "increasing level of demand" for wheat starch – in particular from industrial users.

Paper industry needs

While wheat starch has a number of food uses, being used for instance as a thickening agent or for stabilising sauces, Agrana flagged that its plant expansion was being spurred by the needs of the paper industry, where it is used for roles such as improving strength and texture.

Johann Marihart, the Agrana chief executive, highlighted that the paper industry needs were being driven by the "high proportion of recycled paper", which wheat starch is used to help improve.

And he noted the "high proportion of recycled paper and rising demand for packaging stemming from internet/mail order trade".

The demand contrasts with the hopes of many internet proponents that the coming of the web would see the arrival of the so-called "paperless society" that US information scientist Frederick Wilfrid Lancaster envisioned in 1978, and which was a particularly popular concept around the turn of the century.

Tested model

The operation of wheat starch and bioethanol facilities on the same site aims to boost efficiency, with the remnants of processed grain after starch and gluten extraction still able to be used for making biofuel.

"After extracting wheat starch and gluten, the remaining fractions of the raw materials are used in the production of bioethanol," besides the distillers' grains residue which represents a protein-rich animal feed.

With ethanol output producing carbon dioxide too, "this makes a total of four top-quality products which are manufactured from a single commodity", said Agrana, which is controlled by German-based sugar group Suedzucker.

Suedzucker operates a similar model at its Zeit site in Sachsen-Anhalt, Germany, which includes wheat starch and bioethanol operations, besides a sugar processing plant.

By Mike Verdin

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