Scion’s water quality technology licensed to South Waikato company

14 September 2011

A novel way to improve the water quality of lakes and other waterways, developed at Crown Research Institute Scion, has been licensed to Blue Pacific Minerals based in Tokoroa. The exclusive licence is for the manufacture, sale and global distribution of modified zeolite.

Modified zeolite is marketed under the trade name “Aqual P” by Blue Pacific Minerals, has the potential to be a potent tool in efforts to clean up lakes both in New Zealand and overseas.

Zeolite is a volcanic mineral traditionally used in absorbency markets, such as for chemical spill products, and in sports turf and cat litter. Now modified by Scion scientists, the transformed product acts as a binding agent that attracts phosphorus and other polluting nutrients that run into waterways. By removing excess phosphorus and other nutrients from the water it reduces the conditions that lead to unwanted algal blooms.

Scion researcher Robert Lei explains how it works. “Quite simply, zeolites are a crystal-like mineral with chemical properties and a honeycomb lattice structure that give it amazing absorptive properties in its own right. We have modified it to specifically target and lockup phosphorus. Basically the product is applied to the surface of a body of water and as it sinks it absorbs phosphorus then settles on the bottom to act as a sediment cap. This cap blocks further release of phosphorus from the sediments locking the phosphorus in.”

Compared to other materials, modified zeolite offers significant advantages. It is highly efficient at removing phosphorus so less of the mineral is needed and it also removes other prominent water pollutants such as nitrogen. New Zealand has good sources of high quality zeolite close to sea ports.

With declining water quality being a significant national concern, commercial applications of modified zeolite are promising. Potential markets include treatment of lakes, irrigation reservoirs, domestic and commercial fish ponds and aquariums, farm dams and troughs, golf course ponds, water storage systems in nurseries and other irrigators.

Rotorua-based Scion started research on the ionic properties of locally mined zeolite in 2004 and two years later teamed up with Blue Pacific Minerals to develop the technology around the absorbent properties of zeolite. Trials have been conducted at Lake Okaro, a small nutrient rich lake south of Rotorua, from 2006 onwards, and all results have been very positive with no harmful environmental impacts. The lake trials were commissioned and funded by the Bay of Plenty Regional Council and supported by researchers from the University of Waikato and NIWA.

Scion Chief Executive Warren Parker says excess phosphorus loads in lakes is a worldwide problem. He says the research institute has combined its experience in collaboratively developing remediation technologies to protect New Zealand’s natural resources, with a product supplied and trialled with local partners.

“This is a wonderful example of ‘local to global’ where a solution to a Bay of Plenty problem has potential for significant payoff for the region and the environment if Aqual P is successful in gaining market acceptance,” Dr Parker says.