Cushioning Material Made From Spelt Husks
Industrial designer Lisa Scherer designs and shapes sustainable packaging materials from natural grain residues for her start-up Proservation. The packaging industry is undergoing change, and she wants to help shape it, she says.
Her father's pillow in the Allgäu region of Germany gave Lisa Scherer the bright idea for a new cushioning material for packaging. The pillow is filled neither with down nor with foam, but with spelt husks. “I was looking for a natural product during my master’s thesis and found just the right thing in this pillow,” says Lisa Scherer. She studied Industrial Design at Burg Giebichenstein Kunsthochschule Halle and then completed her master’s in packaging development at Stuttgart Media University (HdM). The idea of using spelt husks not only helped her to write her academic thesis, but was also the start for founding a company.
Scherer comes from a family of entrepreneurs, so becoming self-employed was an option for her early on, she says. “It was fitting then that I received a start-up scholarship with fellow students. The path to founding a start-up was clear, and initially we were able to start our work at HdM without having our own premises,” Lisa Scherer explains. Today, the 35-year-old, and her sister Sophia Scherer, a packaging technician, are the creative heads of the company Proservation. Two male colleagues are responsible for finance and administration. The company has been operating without financial support since March 2023and now has a team of eight.
Instead of Styrofoam
Proservation buys the spelt husks from spelt mills in the Stuttgart region, and Lisa Scherer and her team then shape them into individual packaging materials. Spelt husks are the husks that surround the spelt grain and are a residual material that is not suitable for food. It is used in part as bedding for chicken coops and barns or simply scattered in fields. With the help of organic binders, this residual material can be individually shaped in a few simple, resource-saving process steps, withstands mechanical stresses well, and has an insulating effect, says Scherer.
Husks are hollow on the inside and have a large volume. The natural material is suitable as an alternative for Styrofoam or other fillers in packaging. “We get by without the costly, energy-intensive foaming of plastics by using the naturally grown hollow spaces of husks that occur anyway for the necessary cushioning and insulating effect of the packaging material,” explains the industrial designer. In principle, other types of grain, such as millet, are also suitable, but spelt is the most widespread and available in Germany.
Honey jars, smoothie mixers, sports utensils: the list of items that are now packed in such shapes is long. Lisa Scherer designs each mold. She is working on possible further developments, such as thin coatings. As an industrial designer, she says, she has points of contact with all parts of the packaging industry. Also with mechanical engineering. “Some men are amazed that I design the molded parts myself. That’s when I realize that we live in a young bubble where everyone is the same and the industry just still sees differences,” she says. That’s all the more reason whyshe thinks it's good to see more young women finding their way in this diverse packaging industry. “I can’t help it, I always pursue my own ideas and feel comfortable doing so. What’s especially nice about it is that we’re on the road as a team and everyone brings their know-how to the table," she says. At FACHPACK 2022 the start-up received the German Packaging Award in the new material category for its packaging cushioning material. “When I spoke about our material at exhibitors’ stands, not as an award winner, but as a visitor, I was able to have exciting conversations and make many interesting contacts. That’s when I realized how open the industry is to new things,” says Lisa Scherer.
She is now waiting for the material to be patented; the application at national and European level has already been filed. The company is also currently working on external confirmation of the material’s degradability in common composting processes.
Read another article about women in the packaging industry.