Dennis plays a crucial role in the TSG Hoffenheim team. Without him, nothing runs smoothly. He knows every inch of the pitch. He never gets out of breath. When he’s on the pitch, he makes dreams come true.
But why doesn’t Hoffenheim’s coach Julian Nagelsmann bring him into the starting lineup? At 100 kg, the model athlete with an iron lung could fit well into the defence. What he lacks, however, is dynamism and a certain raw speed, as he only ever covers his six to seven kilometres on the field at walking speed – while being pushed.
Dennis is a high-performance lawn mower, or to be exact: a manual cylinder mower. He is deployed before matches. “Two of our employees spend almost three hours mowing the pitch to get the best possible turf, and during the growing season they are out mowing every day,” explains Maik Grimm, Head of Greenkeeping at TSG.
After the matches, the pitch is mowed using a manual sickle mower to suck up the earth that has been stirred up by football boot studs. Both the ‘grass clippings’ and the ‘match clippings’ – as the mown grass is known in greenkeeper jargon – were previously shovelled into large containers and taken to waste disposal.
Especially in spring and summer, a considerable amount of grass clippings accumulates in the stadium. Grimm explains: “On average, we fill a five-cubic-metre container every two weeks. But sometimes it’s already overflowing within a week.” Fully packed the containers weigh up to 2.5 tonnes. This is roughly how much the entire TSG Hoffenheim squad weighs.
Since the beginning of November 2018, the grass clippings have been turned into a valuable raw material for a very special kind of paper – a paper high in “TSG”, which took part in training, defensive tackles and runaway victories.
“Sustainability plays an important role at our club. What’s special about grass paper is that we can fully identify with this ‘down-to-earth’ product, and in doing so make a further contribution to environmental protection,” says Peter Görlich, Managing Director of TSG Hoffenheim.
Tobias Maier, environmental expert at Greencycle, established the link between TSG Hoffenheim and the grass paper start-up Creapaper in Hennef. Maier explains: “Sustainable autograph cards made out of our own stadium grass – for TSG Hoffenheim, this combination is like a penalty kick without a goalkeeper.”
At Creapaper in Hennef, they are already eagerly awaiting the delivery from Sinsheim. The grass from Sinsheim is due to be pressed into small pellets later today, as everything is already being prepared in the paper mill and print shop for printing Julian Nagelsmann’s autograph cards on TSG grass paper in a few days.
Since 2009, the founder of Creapaper, Uwe D’Agnone, has been researching materials, techniques and workflows to establish grass paper alongside recycled paper as a highly sustainable paper. “Compared to conventional paper, which uses a lot of energy, water and chemicals, grass paper is the most eco-friendly paper: the energy-saving production process reduces CO2 output by up to 75 percent, the materials are not chemically treated, and we only need about two litres of water for one tonne of paper as opposed to 6,000 litres,” explains D’Agnone.
The TSG Hoffenheim contract is a special one for the Creapaper team. In the normal run of things, dried grass is collected from a number of regional compensation sites, mixed at Creapaper and pressed into pellets following mechanical processing. However, TSG Hoffenheim’s grass paper must only contain its own high-performance grass. Deliveries from Sinsheim are therefore kept separate at the Creapaper plant.
First of all, the dried grass is cleaned with air in a cyclone. Around 2% of foreign particles are filtered out by this process. The grass fibres are then cut to a length of 0.7 mm and literally hammered flat. This is what’s known in the technical language of the industry as ‘fiberising’.
In the pellet machine, the milled stadium grass is then pressed into small rods – the pellets – of approximately 2 cm in length. Unpressed, the fibres would be too light for the subsequent paper production process; they would simply float unimpressed on top of the pulp.
In the first phase of TSG’s grass paper production, the paper consists of up to 30% grass. A higher content of up to 50% would be feasible, however in winter the grass yield is rather poor.
The situation is different in the growing season. Dennis and the greenkeepers are working non-stop. It might even be worthwhile in future to press the grass pellets in the stadium directly, says Greencycle expert Maier: “The less air we transport, the more sustainable the production process.”
The pressed grass pellets have arrived at the paper mill. Whereas processing grass fibres into paper in technical facilities worth half a billion euros was once a risky undertaking, grass paper production is now part of day-to-day business there. The production of TSG autograph cards presents very few problems and is progressing rapidly.
The pellets from the stadium grass are fed into the “pulper”. This is a large vat in which a water-fibre mixture is produced from the grass pellets, recycled fibres and water. This fibre mixture then passes through the paper machine in the usual way. The sheet is “formed”: first the water is squeezed out, then the sheet is dried in lengths of 55 metres over a drying cylinder at around 120 degrees Celsius, then wound onto rolls and sent to the print shop.
For the printer, the grass paper rolls delivered to them are just ‘paper’. After printing, the autograph cards are packed and sent to the PreZero Arena. Now all that’s left is for the players to autograph them.
As a high-performance lawnmower, Dennis will never play on Julian Nagelsmans’s team. But he’s becoming increasingly important to the team. What was once a necessary evil – the fight against grass growth – is now the harvesting of a valuable raw material for TSG Hoffenheim.