Philippi is one of the poorest townships in Cape Town. 200.000 people live here, the crime and HIV rates are high. But Philippi by no means only makes negative headlines, it is also the location of a globally recognized lighthouse project. Fly larvae are bred here on a large scale on the basis of biogenic waste, which - processed into protein-rich animal feed - ultimately reduce the overfishing of the oceans. Because the larval meal serves as a high-quality substitute for fish meal, which is still widely used in both chicken and fish farming. For this purpose, systems from the Styrian industrial company Christof Industries are used.

Johann Christof, owner and managing director of the plant manufacturer, sees this as more than just another new line of business with a lot of potential: “We are driven by three thoughts: to consider waste as a valuable material, to find solutions for the increasing food needs of the growing world population and also to create jobs and thus social value in a difficult environment like Philippi."

Christof Industries: Award-winning pioneer

The on-site inspection of the plant reveals that things are crowded here, with more than eight billion black soldier flies buzzing through tent-like breeding grounds. In the neighboring hall, larvae crawl and flee at 35 degrees in neatly labeled shelves - and eat their way through their special menu. Within their ten-day lifespan, they increase their weight by 200 times and thus serve as a biological starting product for the production of high-quality protein. Around 50 tons of feed are produced here every day and 250 tons of waste - collected from food factories, supermarkets and restaurants - are processed. As the first biotech plant to completely recycle all types of organic waste, this pioneering achievement has already been awarded various prizes, such as the BBC Food Chain Global Champion Award. There is also great joy in Graz about this, after all, Christof Industries helped shape every single work step and delivered the entire complex.  

Now it's time to start scaling. Two such plants are currently in operation, and dozens are likely to be added within the next few years. According to Johann Christof, the potential to recycle food from overproduction or incorrect production and not to let it rot in landfills is great in many countries around the world and, above all, economically feasible. He sees signs of this in the fact that the competition is slowly picking up speed. For example, the German Schwarz Group, to which discount retailer Lidl belongs, is currently showing interest in a recycling system for its surplus food.

The organic waste collected from factories, supermarkets and restaurants is delivered to the plant in Cape Town.
The fly larvae eat their way through the biowaste - and increase their weight by 200 times within ten days.
In the last step, the larvae are processed into high-quality animal feed, which is used as a substitute for fish meal.

Christof Industries has an eye on the mega-topics

It is above all this visionary thinking that has brought Christof Industries not only to a Cape Town township, but also to the position that the company occupies today: successful in plant construction and industrial service with a complex portfolio of its own technologies and production facilities. In addition, company takeovers, start-ups and investments have been successively expanded around the world in recent years. “As early as the 1990, we looked outside the box and realized that as a system manufacturer you will need more than just a product or service in the future. Today we offer everything from a single source”, says Johann Christof. The potential that lies in the recycling of waste and in the reuse of process energy was also seen much earlier than elsewhere. The Graz-based company now primarily supplies customers in the waste recycling and environmental technology sectors as well as energy and supply. The great vision behind the diverse projects and technologies of Christof Industries is: Aiming for a complete circular economy in which all industries work efficiently, cleanly and without waste, the buzzword is zero waste.

Christof Industries is right on trend. "Zero waste is preparing to become a mega-topic in politics, business and society," it recently said in the cover story of the German news magazine Der Spiegel.

Christof Industries CEO Johann Christof directs the fortunes.
Controls the fortunes as owner and CEO: Plant builder Johann Christof

The mindset of the next generation also plays into the hands of Christof Industries. “As a father of a family with five adult children and eight grandchildren, I keep hearing how interested young people are in discussing topics such as sustainability, the circular economy and the fight against the climate crisis. These are the future topics par excellence,” says Johann Christof - and points out that many young technicians enjoy working for Christof Industries, especially because of the future-oriented and sustainable business model.

Christof Industries with a wide range of products

Today, systems from Christof Industries can not only recycle solid, but also liquid and gaseous industrial waste. Biodiesel is made from used cooking oil - and not only in Austria or Germany, but also in Turkey and Thailand. The plants from Styria currently produce around XNUMX tons annually. And one CHP plant has been near Bangkok since XNUMX in operation, whose steam boiler built by Christof Industries is fired with waste from the palm oil industry. In the Netherlands and China there are plants that render highly toxic chemical waste harmless and also use it thermally. A lighthouse project for Johann Christof: "Up until now, these customers got their process heat from coal-fired power plants, but in the future they will come from their own highly toxic waste," he says happily. Four more such plants are in the pipeline for the Chinese market alone.

Biomass power plant in Thailand
Fed with waste from the palm oil industry: Biomass power plant in Thailand

The entrepreneur is already very familiar with challenging markets. Christof Industries is also successful in developing country markets, not only in South Africa and Thailand, but also in Ghana, Bangladesh, Laos and Indonesia. When asked about special market potential, Johann Christof mentions India, Southeast Asia and virtually the entire African continent. There, the demand is immense in view of the high volumes of waste and still little recycling. Some projects are currently stalling due to the corona, and financing is an ongoing issue anyway. But Johann Christof remains optimistic and wants to concentrate even more on these markets in the future. "The most important thing is that there is a need for both waste and energy issues, as is the will to change," he emphasizes. An example: He is currently in promising talks about recycling the waste from the Ghanaian banana industry.

Future projects from Christof Industries

Christof Industries has developed the sinTion technology for the treatment of medical waste.
Global export: The sinTion system for the treatment of medical waste is in use at 165 locations worldwide.

One of the pillars of Christof Industries' success is the ongoing cooperation of the in-house research and development department with the technical universities in Graz, Vienna and Linz, the Vienna University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, the Montan University Leoben as well as with various German universities. This ultimately resulted in methods for the 30-fold recycling of waste oils, for phosphorus recovery from sewage sludge or for extraction of natural gas from excess electricity generated by wind turbines. According to Christof, there can only be a real circular economy if the various technologies are combined and networked with one another. The inventors at Christof Industries are already thinking this through for Dubai. Under the catchphrase "Clean City"a master plan has already been submitted that links 17 green technologies with one another. Dubai is to become the first garbage-free city in the world - a “place of constant innovation”, as it is called in the company video.

"Of course this is an optimal representation," says Johann Christof. But especially in Dubai, the willingness to implement is very great. After all, it is a small area with a high population density and large amounts of waste. In addition, there is a serious commitment to sustainability and the desire to create a worldwide sensation with spectacular projects.

The plans are already accessible in animated form. Even if they seem somewhat futuristic: Johann Christof emphasizes that this is a very realistic approach. The technologies have all already been tried and tested and only the combination has to be successful. With the help of the rapidly developing digital possibilities, this can be implemented in the foreseeable future.

In view of such visions of a clean and waste-free future, isn't it problematic if Christof Industries also builds systems for a coal-fired power station in Pakistan? Not at all, says the boss, because a hundred percent exit from coal cannot be achieved overnight. It is therefore important to equip existing plants with the latest technology in order to keep the environmental impact as low as possible: "We are not focusing exclusively on alternative energies, but want to cover the entire energy spectrum of the industry as much as possible and make our contribution everywhere, to become cleaner and more sustainable."

Christof Industries in the corona crisis 

With the broad portfolio of available technologies, Christof Industries was able to make a contribution even in the early phase of the corona pandemic, when knowledge about the virus was still low and many would have guessed that the abbreviation FFP would have been more on financial fair play in football than on particle-filtering respirators.

This brought the entrepreneur calls from the ministries: The reason was the shortage of respiratory masks for the hospital staff. In March 2020, Christof Industries provided hospitals in Styria and Tyrol with some slightly modified sinTion systems, which the company had already developed for the treatment of medical waste in the mid-1990s, in order to sterilize used respiratory masks in a type of large washing machine and make them available again. The need has now died out as the market was flooded with millions of inexpensive disposable masks. The technology behind it, however, is used nationwide in 134 countries, including Brazil, India and Laos, for the sterilization of infectious waste. And if the country-specific legal situation permits, the disinfected waste is converted into reusable medical aids. This stimulates new cycles.

Even if mask recycling has been discontinued, this project from last spring shows how Christof Industries manages to master even complicated situations through quick responsiveness, readiness to adapt and thanks to many experienced engineers and process technicians. Corona-related free capacities were also used to present a sustainability report of more than 100 pages for the first time in 2020. So Johann Christof doesn't want to complain too long about the comparatively low order intake in the previous year. "Postponed is not canceled," he says, and is certain that this year, and especially 2022, will be very positive for his company.

He himself became aware of the danger posed by the coronavirus in mid-January 2020 when he visited the company's own production facility in Nanjing on the occasion of the Chinese New Year and the celebrations there were very cautious because the new virus had already become a determining factor. At the beginning of February, Christof Industries already had an in-house Covid task force under the direction of Natalie Christof, including a specially hired doctor who drives from branch to branch and does tests and training.

Christof Industries: Family-owned company

The coordination within the family in corporate management is not only commonplace between Johann Christof and his wife Natalie, who is responsible for corporate culture and transformation processes. Christof's son Oliver is already fully involved in safeguarding the interests of the owner and in the further internationalization of the company - and the 14-year-old grandson has already aroused initial interest. "Every child must be given the opportunity to develop in accordance with their own interests," says Johann Christof - accordingly, there is no pressure on the next generations of the family to choose a career. But Johann Christof makes no secret of the fact that he would be happy if the company stayed in family hands for a few more generations.

Styrian visionary

Christof Industries headquarters in gray
From Graz into the world: Christof Industries headquarters

The History board of Christof Industries goes back to the 19th century, as the oldest company wholly owned by the group - the German plant manufacturer Oschatz - dates back to 1849. In a narrower sense, the history of the family company Christof Industries begins with the founding of a metal processing company by the welding engineer Johann Christof in 1966. Today the company, which was taken over by his son of the same name in 1988, is active worldwide. More than 4,500 systems have already been installed around the world. The company has offices in 17 countries on every continent. 3,420 employees generated sales of 348 million euros in 2020. The export quota is 90 percent.  

Photos: Christof Industries, Schäfer