Major boost for research areas

Scion’s successes in the recent Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) Science and Innovation Group investment rounds demonstrates confidence in the positive economic and environmental outcomes for New Zealand arising from Scion’s industry partnerships and relationship with other research providers.

At $12.9 million, the six year Extrusion PLUS project attracted the greatest funding of any project in the 2012 MBIE Science Investment Round for high-value manufacturing and services research.

Led by Scion, the researchers will collaborate with three New Zealand universities, and a diverse mix of manufacturing companies, and will draw on links to other world-leading research institutes.

Project leader Dr Alan Fernyhough says the main drivers behind Extrusion PLUS were the global trends to “greener products” in our export markets and the reliance that New Zealand manufacturers have on imported raw (often petroleum-based) materials. Renewable biobased contents  and low environmental  impacts are increasingly desired or specified by consumers. Due to our isolation and small size, these materials limit opportunities to differentiate resulting manufactured products as being “New Zealand home-grown” or “green”. 

Extrusion PLUS will be an enabling technology platform – allowing New Zealand manufacturers with extrusion capabilities to create products with advanced functionalities from local-derived renewable sources. Extrusion is a very versatile process widely used in manufacturing with plastics, composites, fibres, adhesives, coatings, laminated structures, metals, as well as in food and pharmaceutical processing.    

Garry Haskett, General Manager at Ashburton-based biomaterials company Lignotech, believes the prospect of new ways of processing biomaterials means he will be able to create new products for export markets. “Rather than relying on importing feedstocks from North America, we should be able to source these locally,” he says.

A second research project to create 100 percent bio-based adhesives will receive $2.3 million of investment over four years. Scion scientist Warren Grigsby explains these bioadhesives can be used to create new engineered wood products that meet the sustainability requirements of export markets. Health concerns and end-of-life disposal issues surround formaldehyde-based adhesives currently used in products such as panelboards. (Bioadhesives research was featured in the June 2012 issue of Scion Connections.)

MBIE has also invested some $5.2 million into a programme to protect and enhance New Zealand forest exports by mitigating market access risks. The programme will be led by Christchurch-based Scion entomologist, Steve Pawson.

“Our forest industry log exports are heavily reliant on the fumigant methyl bromide – a known ozone depleting agent and one that may raise market access issues in the future,” Dr Pawson explains. “One component of our research will develop ways of applying either electrical energy or electron beams to logs, effectively sterilising the log before export. The same approach is being used in our hospitals to kill cancerous cells.”

Further supporting the nation’s rural fire research efforts, MBIE has invested $2.2 million into Scion’s rural fire research work. The programme will extend over four years and will be led by rural fire researcher Grant Pearce and his Christchurch-based team. The four-year programme builds on a history of Scion and the rural fire sector successfully working together to mitigate the risks of rural fire in the New Zealand landscape. 

Four research projects will be supported by the 2012 Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change (SLMACC) Research Fund. Lasting for either one or two years, they ranged in value from $172,000 to $575,000. The successful projects are: Forestry Strategies in the Waiapu Catchment; Harvesting and Management in Steep Hill Country; Impacts of Climate Change on Soil Carbon Stock; and Harvested Wood to Domestic and Export Markets.