Agricultural and forestry raw materials are being targeted as potential replacements for petroleum-based products in research by the newly-formed company, Biopolymer Network Ltd.
The company has been formed by three research organisations with expertise in producing materials from a range of renewable resources, including animal by-products, arable and vegetable crops, and forestry. The partners are Canesis Network, Crop & Food Research and Scion.
Chairman of the new company, Dr Chris Downs, says the Biopolymer Network will draw on the strengths of the three partners to carry out basic biomaterials science and then use that understanding to develop exciting new products of value to New Zealand industry and with export potential.
“By combining our expertise we have the critical mass needed to carry out research programmes that we could not conduct on our own.
“We aim to produce a stream of new commercial products over the next few years.”
Potential products include a wide range of biopolymer-based formulating agents for cosmetics, personal care products, adhesives, and other specialty chemicals. Replacements for synthetic plastic will be derived from wood cellulose, grain polysaccharides and proteins, and other renewable resources. Natural fibres from wood, flax, hemp and other crops, will replace the current fibrous components of composite materials such as fibreglass. Such natural composites also provide lightweight materials with applications in the automotive and marine industries, furniture and other household products.
Dr Downs says such new materials, especially if sourced from cheaper waste resources, would reduce reliance on imported petrochemicals and offer valuable environmental and economic advantages.
The research has been funded largely by the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology with an investment of $15.3m over six years for research programmes which began in mid 2004. Additional funding has come from specific companies. The Biopolymer Network is also working alongside other potential industry partners to develop this emerging sector.
“We’re aiming to involve industry more to solve relevant industry problems as we move into a more sustainably based industrial era,” Dr Downs says.
Andrew MacPherson, Chief Executive of Canesis Network, sees the new venture as an excellent opportunity to apply his company’s extensive expertise in natural fibrous proteins. “We see so many new possibilities to translate this knowledge into new products which will benefit both New Zealand’s economy and its environment,” he says.
“The creation of high value, sustainable products from our biological resources is critical for New Zealand’s economic development” says Tom Richardson, Chief Executive of Scion (formerly Forest Research). “We are excited about the opportunities this new partnership creates and, in particular, its ability to add a whole new, and valuable, dimension to New Zealand’s forestry industry”.
Crop & Food Research Chief Executive Paul Tocker says excellent opportunities exist for growth in the field of biomaterials. “Our knowledge of the fundamental science of arable and vegetable raw materials complements that of our partners in the company.
“We’re expecting significant intellectual property benefits from the new mix, with plenty of ideas and developments arising which provide the basis of new export industries,” Mr Tocker says.
“This is excellent example of three research organisations collaborating – each with different capabilities – to produce benefits for New Zealand,” says John Smart, Group Manager Investment at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology. “We are proud to be supporting this initiative.”
The company was formally launched at a function at Canesis Network on 26 July.
Source: Press Release Crop and Food Research Aug 02, 2005.