Moving to the new economy

Julian Elder

Scion has had a long history of supporting New Zealand’s planted forest industry. Our cutting-edge research has played an undeniable role for 70-plus years growing the forestry industry into what is now the third highest primary export earner for our nation.

We continue to meet our responsibility as a CRI to work with industry, government and Māori to achieve four national outcomes for New Zealand:

  • Increase the value and productivity of New Zealand forestry, wood products,wood derived and other biomaterial sectors.
  • Protect and enhance market access and manage risk.
  • Increase renewable energy production and energy security from forest biomass.
  • Enhance benefits from forestry-based ecosystem services.

We are active and world class in the areas that you would expect. Our biosecurity team’s discovery of the pitch canker pathogen avoided a disease becoming established that was predicted to cause over $400 million in damage to the forest industry.

Through our work to improve radiata pine genes we have already increased the value of New Zealand’s planted forests by more than $3.5 billion. If our existing genetic improvements from selected breeding were applied to the whole planted forest estate, we’d increase the value to around $8.5 billion.

Yet our role has been changing. As New Zealand adapts to a world living with the effects of climate change, Scion is helping to solve the new challenges that arise, and to support the transition into a new economy focused on sustainable design and renewable resources.

In 2005, we adopted the name Scion to reflect the growth of research programmes that included the development of new materials and energy from renewable resources and waste streams. Fourteen years later our work covers many of the Government’s environmental and economic development goals, supporting the transition needed to address climate change and other challenges. Working with advanced technology, industry, Māori, international science networks and a diverse group of stakeholders we are using science, deep learning and ‘outside the box’ thinking to create solutions to nationwide problems such as how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from energy.

Energy was responsible for 40.5 per cent of New Zealand’s GHG emissions in 2015, the second largest contributor after agriculture. Scion’s research shows that if we swap just 30 per cent of our petroleum-based liquid fuel for cleaner, greener biofuel, we’d reduce greenhouse gas emissions to the equivalent of taking half the cars off the road. On the East Coast alone this would involve planting one and a half times more trees, investing $1 billion into infrastructure and creating 1000 new jobs.

The principles of the circular bioeconomy are fundamental to many of the Government’s goals and an environmental and economically sustainable future New Zealand. As a country, we are moving from an oil-based to a ‘new’ plant-based economy. This new economy is business as usual for Scion. We have years of research and experience in bioproducts that may go on to replace fossil fuel-based products.

Scion has developed bioplastics that are made with renewable bio-resources which naturally degrade. In our bioplastic composites, primary industry byproducts are used as resources rather than treated as waste.

Working with Zespri, we have used waste from the kiwifruit industry to make a bioplastic spoon-knife (the biospife), to replace Zespri’s polystyrene spife made with fossil fuels. By adding another use to this resource, its carbon is stored longer before regenerating back into the environment.

We’ve also used waste from the winemaking industry to make bioplastic vineyard net clips, which replace the 16.8 million polystyrene clips that fall to the ground and become microplastics.

Scion’s contribution to forestry and the new economy is evident and we recognise that we must continue to build not only our scientific strengths but also our key capability in creating solutions and partnering. We look to grow these aspects through the development of the innovation hub of the Scion campus in Rotorua to support this.

I welcome your thoughts on this topic and any other matters raised in this issue of Scion Connections.

J Elder signature

Dr Julian Elder
Chief Executive

For further information contact
Dr Julian Elder


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