16 Juni 2008

Kiwifruit – brown fuel of the future?

Innovations in New Zealand could make kiwifruit a potential biofuel plant

As petrol prices continue to soar to an all-time high, scientists are working on a small, brown, fuzzy solution. It’s already recognised as a mild laxative, blood thinner, meat tenderiser and pavlova garnish, but the humble kiwifruit could be destined for even greater things.

kiwi22.jpgFeasibility studies are being done by Scion, in conjunction with Zespri Innovation, into how to turn 14.5 to 15.6 million trays of waste kiwifruit a year into biofuels and other products, including bioplastics, adhesive formulations and chemical/polymers.

Currently much of the kiwifruit which fails to make the export or local market grade becomes stock food. Graham Wiggins, president of New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers Incorporated (NZKGI), said it was early days but was excited about the prospect. “The world is moving quite quickly towards biofuels and what might be seen now as a small use (of reject fruit) could in the future become a money earner for the industry,” he said.

The potential existed to establish refineries making a range of products from waste kiwifruit near existing packhouses, he said. “We have four major post harvest suppliers in the industry now and this could be a path they may chose to go down.”

Dr Elspeth MacRae, Scion’s head of biomaterials research in Rotorua, said the refineries would be similar to wineries or breweries. “The basic principles of fermentation and distilling are exactly the same as those mankind has been using for thousands of years,” she said.

David Roberts, chairman of the Green Growers Association was also enthusiastic about the research. “The Green Growers Association has been asking for a long time for research into way of using reject fruit and turning it into bio-gas makes sense,” he said.

Source: New Zealand Herald, 2008-06-13.

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