Meeting our science and innovation goals - Impact Area 3

ia3iconBiobased manufacturing and products. To grow healthy, resilient forests that replace petrochemicals and non-sustainable materials with products from trees and other biomaterials.
  • Key performance indicators

    By 2020, at least six new polymeric material products with renewable content have been developed to prototype stage using existing (e.g. extrusion, injection moulding) and emerging technologies (e.g. 3D printing or electrospinning), and two of these prototypes have been incorporated into new product offerings by firms.

  • Achievements

    Scion’s composite programme aims to produce novel, high-performance, eco-friendly functional material. This year we created a fully biobased, wood-derived electronic circuit, a conductive 3D printable elastomeric bioplastic and a biobased aerogel for water depollution.

    Our lignin nanofibre electrospinning and carbonisation technology, developed with commercial partner Revolution Fibres, was adapted to produce conductive biobased inks contributing to packaging industry engagement.

    Our range of biodegradable bioplastic (PHA) materials was expanded by incorporating the microbial cell biomass as a filler. This lowers the cost of the PHA resulting in cheaper products such as bread clips or germination tubes. A PHA commercialisation workshop organised by Scion brought together New Zealand companies with a strong interest in PHA to explore product and manufacturing possibilities.

    As part of the Science for Technological Innovation National Science Challenge, we formed keratin-lignin copolymers for the first time using green chemistry principles. This resulted in materials that can be 3D printed and which retain their inherent responses to external stimuli such as moisture.

    Scion led and successfully completed a six-year MBIE Endeavour funded research programme for BPN (Biopolymer Network Limited). The programme sought to incorporate New Zealand bioresources into new industrial resin, foam or packaging products for industry uptake. Scion modified bark for use as a functional additive for BPN’s Zealafoam™ technology. Scion also supported the uptake of the ZealaFoam® technology by expanded polystyrene manufacturers locally and internationally.

    Scion-developed materials and technologies underpin two technologies now marketed by our partners from EPL. Vine clips, carefully designed to both protect the vines then degrade naturally into the soil, were made using EPL’s biodegradable polymer PolyDegrade™. Building on this work and material, plant protectors made from a unique blend of natural resources are now available from EPL.

    Biofuels can also be made from wood using thermal reactions, such as pyrolysis. However, relatively high levels of oxygen-containing chemicals such as catechols are also created and need to be removed. An enzyme-based system was developed to convert bio-oil-derived catechols into corresponding muconic acids, which could be used as precursors for producing nylons and new biopolyesters.

  • By 2020, two different genetically modified biotech tree lines have been developed and existing trees evaluated to determine their viability as alternative feedstocks for producing high-value chemicals and/or processability for fibre or bioenergy.

  • Trees that were genetically modified to be more easily processed, by altering the monomer composition of lignin, were harvested and their performance evaluated. Biochemical analysis showed that modified lignin was present at high levels in needles and bark but at a lower level in wood. The modified wood showed minor improvements in paper characteristics and enzymatic saccharification. This indicates that wood with greater levels of modified lignin is likely to yield economic and environmental benefits.

    Trees in two growth-related trials, initiated reproduction at a younger age than anticipated and had to be felled to meet the conditions of our EPA approval prior to growth differences becoming apparent.

    Trees with other cell wall modifications are progressing through to field trials.

  • By 2020, Scion has identified technology innovations to deliver the Biofuels Roadmap outcomes
    and has secured funding to progress them.

  • The Biofuels Roadmap indicated that heavy goods transportation and aviation needs liquid biofuels to decarbonise. This need was recognised in the Ministry of Transport’s Green Freight initiative, which considered incentives and mandates to encourage biofuels use. Concern from MBIE and the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment on the impact on biofuels implementation in New Zealand if Marsden Point refinery was to close (one of the scenarios being considered in the Strategic Review of the Refinery) resulted in Scion being asked to produce a brief report addressing a range of questions on the topic.

    The impact of COVID-19 slowed progress with the NZ Biojet consortium, and funding was not secured. A trans-Tasman group, Sustainable Aviation Fuel Alliance ANZ, was set up with contributions from airlines, airports and research groups to promote the development of sustainable aviation fuels.

  • By 2020, Scion and commercial partner(s) have developed a viable and New Zealand-specific biorefinery business case including Scion-developed high-value bioproducts and cost-efficient technology platforms for commodity fibres and bioenergy, including criteria for new short-rotation forest trees systems.

  • Three key papers were published to the biorefinery business case. They covered the effect of pretreatment on the production of liquid biofuels (by thermal routes); production of biomass briquettes with greater energy density that are less likely to break down during transport; and studying nano-scale energy efficient process for future application to large-scale energy systems.

    Requests for information increased from government departments and other organisations, and we elevated our position within the International Energy Agency Bioenergy Group.

    Our partner Ecogas secured funding to convert food waste to biomethane and is about to break ground on a plant that processes 75,000 tonnes per annum of food waste into energy and fertiliser products. Scion also secured a five-year agreement to provide science services to this venture.

    To enable non-destructive identification of radiata trees for high fibre production a high throughput novel core scanning method (Corebot) was developed where cores are scanned using both NIR and X-ray. Results showed significant differences in lignin and cellulose content, which is notable for pulping operations to produce fibres where a 1 per cent change in cellulose content has a substantial impact on pulping efficiency.

  • By 2020, Scion has worked with Māori, and at least one Māori entity has included new biobased
    materials in their product portfolio.

  • With MBIE’s Unlocking Curious Minds funding, Scion worked with Kai Rotorua and Rotorua Boys High School to bring kūmara history to life via science and technology. In Scion workshops, students made 3D models of kūmara they had harvested, and the models were 3D printed with a biopolymer.

    Another Unlocking Curious Minds project underway engages students from local schools to assess the issues, scale and possible sources of plastic pollution along the Kaituna River catchment.

    In a two-year collaboration with the NZ Institute for Minerals to Materials Research and Māori weavers we are assessing how the properties of cabbage tree and harakeke fibres prepared using matauranga Māori and paper-pulping methods affect the properties of bioplastic composites.

  • By 2022, New Zealand has new industries using new high-performance products enabled by Scion-developed technologies (on-demand degradable plastics, green electronics, biobased composites, lignin products and new compounded materials containing biopolymers), using existing (e.g. extrusion and/or injection moulding) and emerging technologies (e.g. 3D-printing or electrospinning).

  • Scion chaired the Safe and Sustainable Packaging and Materials Forum in Auckland in March 2020 attended by central and regional government, waste providers, brand owners and consultants. It was agreed that change is necessary, everyone must take responsibility, and both compostability and recyclable materials have a place.

    As part of our work on biobased printable electronics to inform packaging performance, five data loggers were compared by monitoring a shipment of apples from Hastings to Antwerp, Belgium. Overall, they all produced relatively similar temperature records, but the humidity results varied among them. The loggers and their software interfaces had different advantages and disadvantages.

    The packaging team is now a partner in an international APPTI (Alliance for Pulp & Paper Technology Innovation) programme between Miami University (USA), RISE (Sweden), Massey University and Scion on producing a model of box behaviour capable of accounting for factors including creep and vibration.

    We are supporting ESR’s AIM2 MBIE Programme (Aotearoa Impacts and Mitigation of Microplastics). Our activities include quantifying microplastics distribution, assessing direct and indirect impacts of plastics and determining methods of reducing the impacts and the amount of plastic in the environment.

  • By 2020, Scion has identified commercial opportunities that have led to drop-in replacement of coal with wood residues or wood-based solid fuel products to generate heat in industrial processes. This will help drive a 1 per cent reduction in GHG emissions per annum from the sector, aligned with the New Zealand Energy Efficiency and Conservation target.

  • Scion continued working with the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority (EECA) on biomass availability and cost of supply to eight commercial entities requiring heat for processing. With BusinessNZ we also assisted EECA on their modelling of different energy demand scenarios out to 2060 and the impact on GHG emissions.

    Both bark and bark processing residues were assessed for their characteristics suitable for use as biofuel briquettes. From this evaluation, an understanding of briquette manufacturing conditions including consolidation temperatures and pressures were determined to ensure satisfactory briquette durability (weathering) and performance.

  • By 2023, Scion has demonstrated the feasibility of converting forest and other biobased materials through distributed and mobile processes into chemicals and biopolymers and has identified a group of interested industrial partners to progress one of the technologies to pilot/demonstration scale.

  • Several proof-of-concept projects are underway such as BPA (Bioprocessing Alliance)-funded work to assess the feasibility of using brewers’ spent grain and hemp hurd/straw as feedstock for a reactive extrusion-based process to produce biochemicals. Working with commercial companies we developed reactive extrusion-based processes for the manufacture of selected high-value biochemicals

    Scion supported an AgResearch-led international initiative exploring new ideas for grassland production systems to increase export value and generate new job opportunities, while reducing environmental impacts. This work includes leading Irish research organisations (Teagasc, AMBER and the BEACON Bioeconomy Research Centre), and investigations began around alternative and complementary uses for pasture as a feedstock for a green biorefinery. Irish researchers visited Scion in October 2019.

  • Ongoing: Provide evaluation of benefits and risks to increase engagement and stakeholder support for biotech for forestry and other bioproduct industries and ensure quantified outcomes for biotechnology applications are presented to the forest industry, government and other key
    stakeholders to facilitate an informed decision on future implementation.

  • We received the final report from Colmar Brunton on our public survey of opinion and presented results at the annual Forest Growers Research Conference. The key result of achieving potential sterility in Douglas-fir through gene editing was reported in the Forest Growers newsletter with commentary that the law on biotech plants needs revision. The public survey indicated that while the public is not generally well informed on the GMO debate they were most generally in favour of using gene editing to combat wilding conifers. These results were also submitted to the Waikato District Council on the Waikato District Plan revision together with other organisations regarding GMO organisms in the Waikato. The hearing was held in late January 2020, and we are awaiting a decision.

    We have demonstrated the ability to carry out gene editing by directly introducing CRISPR protein complexes into radiata, which is the first time for radiata to our knowledge. This is the key step in development of transgene free gene editing. A hybrid approach has been used where editing has been carried out by CRISPR protein co-delivered with a transgene that enables selection of the edited trees. Ongoing work is focussed on delivery of the protein without the selectable marker.

  • Ongoing: Support bioproducts and bioenergy industries to grow and develop by (a) addressing standards that create artificial barriers to products accessing markets or applications, (b) developing technologies and IT systems that allow bioproducts to be traced within the value chains they are transacted in and for their source to be verified, and (c) ensuring environmental compliance for regulators and customers.

  • Scion contributed to Cawthron-led research to develop a marine biosecurity ‘toolbox’ by testing eco-innovative digital technologies combining 3D scanning and printing of natural environments, and by developing cost-benefit models and decision support systems.

    Our Biodegradation Plant was contracted by four companies with >20 companies requesting quotes for compostability testing towards their environmental compliance obligations.

    Scion joined forces with Plastics New Zealand, Packaging New Zealand, WasteMINZ and the Sustainable Business Network to develop a New Zealand specific New Plastic Economy Roadmap. Completion of this two-year Waste Minimisation Fund funded programme is due in mid-2021.

    Another WMF two-year project “A practical study of compostable materials in NZ composting systems” started. The project will quantify how a range of different packaging materials degrade in different composting facilities.