Extraction of secondary plant substances

Secondary plant substances instead of petroleum: our pilot extraction plant extracts substances from biomass, providing sustainable alternative raw materials for a wide range of applications to help create an eco-friendly bio-economy.

Over recent years we have developed processes for extracting secondary plant substances from forest biomass while also preserving their functionality. Our pilot plant can be used to examine processes before the transfer to production on an industrial scale and to produce extracts for the development of applications. For example, basic raw materials or additives for use in construction materials can be obtained from the bark of Swiss wood. The extracted substances can be used in a wide variety of applications, including in low-emissions adhesives for the wood-based materials sector and in highly fire-resistant resin systems or, thanks to their high level of bioactivity, as additives in animal feed.


The pilot plant in Biel can extract phenolic substances (including tannins) from the bark of Swiss spruce in a two-stage water and solution-based process. The plant can produce kilogrammes of extracts that are required in the development of applications with a high degree of technological maturity.

Companies can test different processes for obtaining extracts from forest biomass on a pilot scale before implementing them at their own industrial plants. For industry partners seeking to use the plant substances in product applications, the pilot plant provides sufficient production capacity to develop applications with a high level of technological maturity. The development of applications has failed in the past owing to the inadequate quantity and quality of extract from suitable processes. The pilot plant resolves this issue.

Its capacity means that up to 50 kg of biomass a day can be processed into highly concentrated extract which is then dried to a powder-like substance in subsequent stages.

Additional systems for possible upstream or downstream process stages – such as grinding, steam explosion, membrane filtration, chemical modification and vacuum and spray drying – are also available at BFH. This means the plant facilities can be used for a wide range of plant biomass extraction processes.

We carry out chemical characterisation of the plant substances obtained at our own analytical laboratory and can provide information on the composition, application properties and storage behaviour of the extracted products.

Areas of application

Working with our industry partners, we develop marketable and sustainable products for a Swiss bio-economy. The plant substances extracted not only enable petroleum-based components in formulations to be replaced, but also provide the opportunity to significantly reduce the environmental footprint of products by systematically pursuing an eco-design approach.

Various research projects have been carried out with industry partners in recent years:

  • Novel tanning products based on modified tannins
  • Nonflammable structural insulation material
  • NATURECOMP – fire resistant composite derived from biomasses
  • Process development for extraction of condensed tannins 
  • Glass wool insulation materials with increased fire resistance based on natural tannins
  • Extraction of bioactive wood extractives and use for improvement of service life of coating systems
  • Material technology for wood-based 3D printing
  • Tannin extraction from bark of domestic softwoods and application in tannin-based adhesives for plywood production
  • Coloration of veneers by reaction of natural wood components