Interview with Stefan Sick, Sport Group Director of Research & Development

What is the vision for Sport Group’s Green Technology?

Our vision to develop for sport surfaces a ‘totally green supply chain’ that enables us to create climate-positive products for turf and athletic tracks. Having years of experience with renewable resources for running track binders, we strive for more green products and technology.

On the turf side, our Poligras Tokyo GT hockey turf is the first significant step in this transformation process.

What is required to meet this vision?

This transformation requires a material science driven and technical process development along the whole value chain of turf production. By creating the industry’s only fully integrated global supply chain we can deliver unmatched quality control.

We can trust the value chain which allows us take a holistic view, so we can look at sustainability in all its dimensions, including its sport technical performance, long-term value for the customers, ecological footprint, and compliance.

We also look for products with positive effects like reduction of fertilizers, pesticides and water. We invest in the supply chain to create value for the customers and a sustainable future for sport.

What was involved in the development of Tokyo GT?

Breakthroughs like this require a wide range of internal and external experts and strong, committed partners. Internally we invested in our in-house knowledge, with research teams and resources from our global R&D network.

Externally we conducted a worldwide search for responsible partners and suppliers. This gave us a network of expert partners such as 3rd party testing partners, universities, polymer and materials scientists.

Why hockey?

There are three reasons.

First, the hockey community has a long tradition with synthetic turf which means they are very conscious of sustainability and long-term value. They know the challengers and benefits of turf, and are always seeking a better product.

Second, we chose hockey turf because it is a complex texturized product with high fine-tuned performance requirements. As such it was the ‘acid test’; if we can create an elite Green Technology hockey turf then we could make Green Technology turfs for all others sports, too.

Finally, we wanted to support Tokyo’s ambition for carbon neutral Olympic Games. We want to contribute to this important message and increase environmental consciousness in product development.

How did you discover the sugar cane solution?

There are other options to sugar cane, for example starch or cellulose, when using e.g. wood as a raw material.

We chose sugar cane based PE technology since it gave us the highest yield of renewable content matching too all technical performance requirements. Our PE used is based on more than 85% on sugar cane and just 15% being based on standard petro-chemistry.

Our partners were able to provide a product that we could further develop to create a bio-based PE formulation that met our needs of a high performance turf yarn.

What else is important for Green Technology?

It is not just the raw material but also what energy source has been used to create it. You need to consider where the energy is coming from that is used to create the polymer and to produce the yarn and finally the turf. Is it wind, solar or water power?

For example, our manufacturing plant in Grefrath, Germany, buys a high percentage of wind and non -fossil based energy.

This is very important when you make the total CO2 balance.

Who worked on developing the Tokyo GT hockey turf?

To develop the technology and the product we engaged a wide range of Sport Group resources from Europe, the US and Australia.

This included chemical engineers, testing materials scientists, extrusion technology specialists, chemists and process engineers. And to ensure the turf was good for ‘laying and playing’ we also worked with our construction engineers and with sports-mechanical experts and hockey players.

How long does this new product development take?

Developing innovative, state-of-the-art products is very expensive and time-consuming. There was three year’s work on the polymer science including constant testing and continuous optimization.

How did it feel when you realized it was going to work?

It is very gratifying to create products that positively contribute to the world and to hear the positive feed-back the players, their coaches and clubs on its performance. We now have a product that is great for the environment and for players. And there is professional satisfaction to apply theoretical knowledge and have real world proof that it works.

We are not the players, but our team is ‘Olympic quality’ and our contribution is vital.

What is the future for our Green Technology?

To achieve a ‘totally green supply chain’ we must make our Green Technology more sophisticated and include it in all components and go beyond yarn. We are building a full Green Technology product range that will include other sports applications and other products, for example football products.

Tokyo GT is a major development, but it is just the beginning.