The new bio-econ­omy Not hippy, tree-hug­ger stuff but se­ri­ous world pol­i­tics

The Orchardist - - News - By Denise Landow

This re­veal­ing mes­sage is from Dr Flo­rian Graichen, sci­ence leader for biopoly­mers and chem­i­cals at Scion in Ro­torua.

Scion is a crown re­search in­sti­tute spe­cial­is­ing in re­search, sci­ence and tech­nol­ogy de­vel­op­ment for forestry, wood prod­ucts, wood-de­rived ma­te­ri­als, and other bio­ma­te­rial sec­tors.

His mis­sion, in sim­ple terms, is to bring Scion’s biopoly­mer and green chem­i­cal dis­ci­plines to­gether.

One of his call-outs to the hor­ti­cul­tural in­dus­try is to, ‘tell us what you need – and we’ll make a sus­tain­able ver­sion’.

“If you want your pro­duce and ser­vices to be sold and cham­pi­oned by large in­ter­na­tional busi­ness, more and more, you’ll need to help them de­liver ‘green’ prod­ucts – oth­er­wise you’ll find your­self out in the cold,” he says.

The Cir­cu­lar Econ­omy, as it’s known, tar­gets the tran­si­tion from a lin­ear to­wards a cir­cu­lar eco­nomic model. It closes the loop of prod­uct life­cy­cles and the bio-econ­omy and aims for sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion and use of re­new­able re­sources to pro­duce ev­ery day prod­ucts. It will have mas­sive im­pacts on New Zealand food pro­duc­ers – whether they agree with it or not.

As Graichen states, “if you’re ex­port­ing, you will be ex­port­ing into na­tions that un­der­stand these con­texts, and these con­texts are in­creas­ingly im­por­tant to them.”

“We can de­bate about cli­mate change as much as we want. You can be­lieve in it or not – that’s to­tally up to you.”

But now in­ter­na­tional cor­po­rates are cham­pi­oning sus­tain­abil­ity mes­sages to their cus­tomers.

These well-known cor­po­rates, such as: Ikea, Lego, Ford, Toy­ota, Coca Cola, Danone, Star­bucks, McDon­alds, Ap­ple and Philips have made strong pub­lic state­ments around sus­tain­abil­ity and the use of biobased ma­te­ri­als as early as 2020.

“They will con­sider car­bon foot­prints. So if you’re in a sup­ply or value chain, de­liv­er­ing to any of these com­pa­nies, you’ll need to help them to de­liver these tar­gets – oth­er­wise you’re out,” he says.

Those strong in­ten­tions have cre­ated enor­mous brand pull for sus­tain­able and re­new­able types of prod­ucts.

“If you look at these com­pa­nies, they are not lit­tle pro­duc­ers of niche prod­ucts, these are big in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies,” he re­minds


“In New Zealand we have seen bioe­con­omy philoso­phies gain­ing mo­men­tum. An im­por­tant part of the bio-econ­omy is the as­pect of grow­ing and gen­er­at­ing bi­o­log­i­cal re­sources in a sus­tain­able way.

“So we’re not talk­ing about ap­proaches where you cut down rain­forests, plant palm oil and say we are driv­ing re­new­able re­sources – that’s not how this works.

“It has to be sus­tain­able from an eco­log­i­cal and eco­nom­i­cal per­spec­tive. The other part is con­ver­sion into food, feed and bio-prod­ucts, so it’s not com­pet­ing on ‘do I use my ma­te­rial for food or feed?’

“You can look at it for the whole spec­trum of prod­ucts. This is not the ap­proach of some lefty-gree­nie-hippy type peo­ple – this is se­ri­ous world pol­i­tics.”

He states that more than 50 coun­tries world-wide have adopted a na­tional bio-econ­omy strat­egy.

Bio-eco­nomics is a now thought of as a ma­jor driver for in­no­va­tion and eco­nomic growth.

Brazil is a coun­try that gen­er­ates a mas­sive amount of bi­o­log­i­cal feed­stock, and wants to be world num­ber one in that sec­tor. China wants to sub­sti­tute

fu­els with re­new­able re­sources. In the Euro­pean Union (EU), we can look at ser­vices and prod­ucts cre­ated in this new sci­ence, he states.

In the EU econ­omy alone, the bioe­con­omy is es­ti­mated at 2 tril­lion Euros (3.5 tril­lion NZD), that’s about a tenth of the whole econ­omy in Europe, and is a grow­ing seg­ment.

Graichen states an in­ter­est­ing thing in our own coun­try is the fact that New Zealand is ac­tu­ally al­ready a bioe­con­omy.

“We have a tem­per­ate cli­mate, land, wa­ter, strong bi­o­log­i­cal sci­ences, and a ro­bust pri­mary in­dus­try value chain – so we’re al­ready set up to feed and fit into this new type of econ­omy.”

He strongly rec­om­mends peo­ple read the MPI’s Pri­mary Sec­tor Sci­ence Road Map be­cause the in­for­ma­tion deals with New Zealand’s bio-econ­omy.

https:// www. mpi. govt. nz/ news-and-re­sources/sci­ence­and-re­search/pri­mary-sec­tor­science-roadmap-te-ao-turoa. “This looks across all sec­tors, and how they can be in­te­grated. It’s not group against group. It’s not dairy against forestry – it’s op­er­at­ing to­gether, coutil­i­sa­tion, co-usage of re­sources.”

One of the big­gest chal­lenges in the cir­cu­lar and bio-econ­omy must be sin­gle use plas­tic pack­ag­ing.

Scion’s ex­perts would love to talk to any­one who has prob­lems with sin­gleuse plas­tics, and is keen to ex­plore any op­por­tu­ni­ties, ideas, or just get to­gether for a chat.

This could cover any as­pect of im­prov­ing pack­ag­ing, holis­tic pack­ag­ing ap­proaches, chang­ing out old ideas for new ways of do­ing things in more sus­tain­able ways, he says.

Graichen then showed two rel­e­vant ex­am­ples of bio-based poly­mers his team had re­cently devel­oped to his cap­tive hor­ti­cul­tural au­di­ence. He ac­knowl­edges that pack­ag­ing in the hor­ti­cul­ture in­dus­try is a highly im­por­tant vari­able.

In a global con­text, pack­ag­ing is a mas­sive in­dus­try worth around $839 bil­lion (2015) with pre­dicted 3.5% growth rate till 2020. The Pack­ag­ing Coun­cil of New Zealand has high­lighted pack­ag­ing as the value mul­ti­plier in our global sup­ply chains. The pack­ag­ing sec­tor’s an­nual in­dus­try sales of $3.9 Bil­lion con­trib­utes to 1.8% of New Zealand’s GDP – un­der­pin­ning a $60 Bil­lion ex­port sec­tor and a sim­i­lar quan­tum for do­mes­tic trade.

To­day and in the near fu­ture, pack­ag­ing has to do more, and it’s not just about pro­tect­ing prod­ucts any­more, he ex­plains.

Pack­ag­ing has to tell a story, have an­ti­coun­ter­feit­ing and trace­abil­ity fea­tures. It has to con­nect dig­i­tally with the in­ter­net and cloud-based data stor­age, while at the same time, work within new re­quire­ments to be func­tional in the cir­cu­lar and bioe­con­omy frame­work.

One of pack­ag­ing’s big­gest is­sues is find­ing that sweet spot be­tween un­der­pack­ag­ing, which places prod­ucts at risk in terms of per­for­mance, cost and de­sign, and over-de­sign. Over­pack­ag­ing sees or­chardists pay­ing too much for over-en­gi­neered sys­tems.

“This is an area where Scion has a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in the as­sess­ment and de­vel­op­ment of pack­ag­ing so­lu­tions,” he states.

“That’s im­por­tant be­cause New Zealand is iso­lated and our pro­duce trav­els long dis­tances. We’re not send­ing things like cars – we’re talk­ing about ex­port­ing ex­tremely frag­ile and sen­si­tive prod­ucts, and the pack­ag­ing has to be thought through.”

With frag­ile prod­ucts, the risks and im­pact of fail­ure are costly be­cause squashed prod­ucts are pretty much use­less. Scion ex­perts are look­ing at sev­eral ap­proaches.

One cur­rent area of in­ves­ti­ga­tion is pack­ag­ing with gas-bar­ri­ers, but the main ef­fort is along bio-based lines with degrad­able ma­te­ri­als which achieve bet­ter per­for­mance but can ei­ther com­posted or re­cy­cled. In a world-wide con­text, the costs of these boxes fail­ing are tens of bil­lions of dol­lars.

It’s no sur­prise that boxes at the bot­tom of a stack will even­tu­ally break down be­cause of creep, and de­stroy the prod­ucts within.

Scion is op­er­at­ing the WHITE room (an acro­nym for weight, hu­mid­ity in­ter­vals, tem­per­a­ture and ex­per­i­ments), a unique pur­pose-built cool room, de­signed to test box fail­ure un­der con­trolled con­di­tions. The WHITE room en­ables Scion to study the causes of box fail­ure, and to TRUSTED AND TRUE de­velop so­lu­tions that both pro­tect New Zealand pro­duces amaz­ing and add value by re­duc­ing the amount pri­mary prod­ucts such as fruit, wine and lost through this fac­tor. meats and once they leave our shores – Boxes and pack­ag­ing that bet­ter how can the end con­sumer re­ally know with­stand ex­port sup­ply chains will if the food they’ve pur­chased is ac­tu­ally be a great en­hance­ment for many from where the la­bel says? in­dus­tries. This is where new tech­nolo­gies to beat coun­ter­feit­ing are re­quired.

“That in it­self is rel­a­tively easy but they also wanted it made with cir­cu­lar and bio-econ­omy think­ing in mind, and have one of their feed stocks in­cor­po­rated, the ki­wifruit skins.

“We sourced ki­wifruit skin and the bio-based poly­mer – and this is where Scion tech­nol­ogy comes in. We had to an­swer the ques­tion of how do you make that work, be­cause a poly­mer com­pound has never used ki­wifruit skins be­fore.”

The sci­en­tists had to en­sure the ma­te­rial was func­tional and op­er­a­tional. Other fac­tors such as com­pound­ing, mould­ing tech­nolo­gies, biodegrad­abil­ity, food con­tent ap­provals and mar­ket ac­cep­tance were also im­por­tant.

Work­ing with the wine in­dus­try, Scion has devel­oped biodegrad­able clips. Bird netting clips tra­di­tion­ally used petroleum-based non-degrad­able plas­tics.

Around New Zealand there are many or­ganic vine­yards which look pic­ture per­fect, but non-biodegrad­able clips are cur­rently in use.

The only pur­pose of these clips is to hold netting on for a few months.

“When the nets are ripped off, they have to break into the pieces are so small, that no one would bother to pick them up. They lie there on the ground for­ever, and even­tu­ally they will break down into mi­cro-plas­tics but they would never de­grade,” he says.

“What we sug­gested is a bet­ter way to make these clips. There’s no need for the items to last be­yond their in­tended pur­pose, so we de­signed bio-clips from rigid films con­tain­ing red grape po­mace and biodegrad­able poly­mers. The fi­bre from the skins both stiff­ens the clips and makes them eas­ier to break.”

It now can be part of the viti­cul­ture in­dus­try’s ex­cit­ing story about be­ing re­new­able and sus­tain­able.

In this case the wine po­mace ac­cel­er­ates the degra­da­tion. The clip

is now a su­pe­rior prod­uct with a pur­pose.

“Now these clips can lie on the ground and even­tu­ally de­grade,” ex­plains Graichen.

“These are two ex­am­ples, I be­lieve that in hor­ti­cul­ture, there are any num­ber of sin­gle use plas­tics that we could look at in the same way.

“Don’t be tied down by the fact that this is a clip. Items can be made into dif­fer­ent shapes and forms, they can be hard or soft, look like ropes, or what­ever.

“I can’t tell what items you use in your op­er­a­tions, but what I can do is ask - can you think of sim­i­lar sce­nar­ios in your work area?”

The main driver is to com­bine per­for­mance with sus­tain­abil­ity, but you can play with a lot of vari­ables, Graichen


“We’re talk­ing about cus­tomised de­sign. These ex­am­ples were an ap­pe­tiser to show you that Scion is much more than wood and forestry.”

Dr Flo­rian Graichen

The biospife is a novel tool made from bio-plas­tic in­cor­po­rat­ing ki­wifruit residues.

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