Scholarship win helps Waikato student in bioplastic work

17 May 2013

Talia Hicks

Plastic fantastic: University of Waikato student Talia Hicks has won a Fieldays scholarship to help her PhD study into decolouring bloodmeal which is used to make bioplastic.

University of Waikato PhD student Talia Hicks has won a Fieldays scholarship for her work looking at how to decolour bloodmeal and work this into the bioplastic manufacturing process.

She's working with Dr Johan Verbeek on the project - which is being commercialised under the company Aduro Biopolymers, a natural resource materials and biopolymer company.

Sustainable focus

Bloodmeal bioplastic uses low-value animal waste to create a high-value plastic that breaks down without polluting the environment. Suitable applications include agricultural plastic sheeting, seedling trays, plant pots and even biodegradable golf tees.

Earlier this year Aduro Biopolymers secured investment from Wallace Corporation, by volume New Zealand's largest service rendering business, processing a variety of co-products from the meat processing industry.

Changing without compromise

Talia's research is aimed at changing the colour of the bioplastic without compromising its physical integrity.

"I'm looking at what happens when you bleach the bloodmeal feedstock used to produce bioplastic. When you bleach something you end up with structural changes to the product, I'm looking at what changes do happen, and how these changed the properties of the product."

She's working backwards after a colleague figured out how to alter the colour through trial and error. "The bioplastic was originally black but now it’s a honey colour and translucent. I'm looking at what changes happened during the bleaching process, and how these changed the properties of the bioplastic.

"The bleaching has run on effects on the manufacturing process. Anything that physically changes the product also influences the manufacturing process - we'll lose some steps and add some others."

Strong relationship with Fieldays

The New Zealand National Fieldays Society funds the university's New Zealand National Agricultural Fieldays Sir Don Llewellyn Scholarship worth $22,000 in total each year. Talia and another Waikato University student who is studying soil "flipping", both win $11,000 each.

The University of Waikato has a long-standing association with Fieldays - its founding Vice-Chancellor Sir Don Llewellyn was a strong supporter of the event when it began in the 1960s, and the university has for many years been a strategic partner of the National Agricultural Fieldays.

Fieldays takes place 12-15 June this year at Mystery Creek near Hamilton.