"We cannot do without standards in our work"

Styrian KWB stands for innovation and sustainability in the field of renewable energy - also thanks to its involvement in standardization.

KWB Managing Director Erwin Stubenschrott, credit: KWB
KWB Managing Director Erwin Stubenschrott, credit: KWB

It all started with the vision of Professor August Raggam of the Technical University of Graz. The "founding father" of Kraft und Wärme aus Biomasse GmbH (KWB) firmly believed that future generations would only be able to enjoy a livable future on Earth if energy supply switched to 100 percent renewable energy. "This vision was and is our mission, and it also forms part of our corporate culture," says co-founder and KWB's Managing Director Erwin Stubenschrott

In this context, the combustion of biomass plays an important role for mechanic and organic farmer Stubenschrott because this was also the beginning of the success story of the Styrian company. Green pioneer Raggam developed processes for the clean and efficient combustion of biomass as early as the 1970s, and set up the research institute "Alternative Energy Generation" at the Technical University of Graz in 1985.

Innovation centre of KWB, credit: KWB
Innovation centre of KWB, credit: KWB

Innovativeness has been a trademark of the company since its foundation in 1994. Hence, new developments related to biomass heating systems very frequently originate from KWB. What is more, they are passionate about their work.

Managing Director Erwin Stubenschrott is convinced that the right mix of research and practice is the key to the company's success. Consequently, they opened the KWB Competence Centre in 2003 and the first Biomass Research and Development Centre in 2006 at the corporate headquarters in St. Margarethen an der Raab.

Standards facilitate innovation

Dr. Alexander Weissinger, KWB's head of research, credit: KWB
Dr. Alexander Weissinger, KWB's head of research, credit: KWB

By now, the innovation centre developed into one of the leading private-sector organizations of this type all over Europe. Here, 35 experts test existing and new products on 18 cutting-edge test benches.

"Every year we invest approximately ten percent of our sales in research and the development of our products," reports Dr. Alexander Weissinger who is responsible for research at KWB. "Especially for novel products as the ones we develop, it is of great importance that technical standards are available."

Innovations designed by KWB, such as the rotary-grate combustion system and, most recently, the crawler burner with innovative combustion technology, could hardly be realized without standards.

"From material, safety and testing requirements for our boilers to safe fuel storage and the parameters of the chips to be combusted - we cannot do without standards in our day-to-day work," explains Weissinger.

Commitment out of conviction

Recognizing that those who do not participate in standardization must comply with the standards defined by others, KWB consistently contributes to standardization. For example, KWB's head of research, Alexander Weissinger, served as the convenor for the revision of ÖNORM EN 303-5 on heating boilers for solid fuels and chaired the related European standardization group at CEN. In this process, key framework conditions were also developed for the EU Ecodesign Directive to be adopted in 2015 that will specify essential requirements for solid fuel burners.

In addition to boilers, technical standards for fuels themselves and their safe storage are, of course, also very important for innovative KWB. Therefore, Weissinger was also active in the national mirror committee of Austrian Standards in order to prepare Part 2 of the European pellet standard EN 14691 on the basis of ÖNORM M 7135. That European standard was recently developed further into the internationally applicable standard ÖNORM EN ISO 17225 "Solid biofuels - Fuel specifications and classes, Part 2: Graded wood pellets".

To ensure that the pellets made from natural wood still are high-grade fuel after transport and intermediate storage, the national standards ÖNORM M 7136 and ÖNORM M 7137 define relevant requirements for quality assurance.   

Regional raw materials

Owing to the ISO standard on fuels, companies like KWB now find it easier to enter international markets as well. The Styrian lead company also focuses on sustainability in this case, for example, by promoting raw materials available regionally.

Hence, the high-quality boilers and burners can burn different types of biomass - not only wood pellets but also miscanthus - well known as Chinese silver grass -, willows, poplar and corn cobs.

In Spain, a test series on olive stones was completed recently. As all those natural raw materials differ by their chemical components, they have to meet certain general requirements when they are used as fuels. Those requirements are defined on the basis of ISO 17225, for example, in the standards ÖNORM C 4000 to C 4003.

Dr. Karl Grün, Director Development at Austrian Standards: "This demonstrates very impressively how sensible it is for innovative companies to get involved in standardization - also and especially at the European and international level."

Energy and raw material centre as a "future lab"

To promote the understanding of energy production and raw materials, KWB set up the future-oriented energy and raw materials centre ZUERST at its headquarters in Styria. In an energy display garden for alternative fuels from agriculture, research experiments related to fuel wood, agroforestry and humus formation are performed on an area of 23,000 m².

In addition, the centre demonstrates by examples how regional energy sovereignty can be achieved: by means of raw materials existing in the region and the use of optimally suited technologies. ZUERST illustrates the sustainable and forward-looking orientation of the company and attracts thousands of visitors each year.

Bibliography

ÖNORM EN 303-5 Heating boilers - Part 5: Heating boilers for solid fuels, manually and automatically stoked, nominal heat output of up to 500 kW - Terminology, requirements, testing and marking
ÖNORM M 7136 Compressed wood in natural state - Woodpellets - Quality assurance in the field of logistics of transport and storage
ÖNORM M 7137 Compressed wood in natural state - Woodpellets - Requirements for storage of pellets at the ultimate consumer
ÖNORM EN ISO 17225 Solid biofuels - Fuel specifications and classes (7 parts)
ÖNORM C 4000 Compressed miscanthus
ÖNORM C 4001 Chopped miscanthus

About KWB

Kraft und Wärme aus Biomasse GmbH (KWB) stands for innovative premium heating solutions. Founded by biomass pioneer Dr. August Raggam together with mechanic and organic farmer Erwin Stubenschrott in 1994, the company now is among the leading suppliers of pellet, log wood and wood chip heating systems in Europe. At the company's headquarters in St. Margarethen an der Raab (Styria, Austria) and in the subsidiaries located in Germany, France, Italy and Slovenia, 439 employees generated an annual turnover of around EUR 74 million in 2013. Approximately ten percent of this amount was again invested in research and development by KWB. Moreover, the company group that is committed to sustainability actively takes part in the development of new standards.