An alternative to plastic, a winning idea

15 September 2017

Johan Verbeek
Associate Professor Johan Verbeek is a finalist in the IChemE international awards.

The Institution of Chemical Engineers (IChemE) has announced the finalists for its global awards and the University of Waikato’s Associate Professor Johan Verbeek is one of them.

The awards celebrate excellence, innovation and achievement in the chemical, process and biochemical industries. There are 15 categories and Dr Verbeek is one of eight finalists in the Innovative Product Award. He had to “have my arm twisted” to enter, but now finds himself in illustrious company, including Dow Europe (Switzerland), Dow Italia and Dow USA.

Dr Verbeek has spent the last decade developing a way to use animal by-products that prevent meat products from contamination during the meat-works process. Traditionally meat processors have relied on clips and plugs made from plastic and which have to be removed before rendering, but Dr Verbeek and his team have developed Novatein, a thermoplastic polymer made mostly from rendered protein and which doesn't need removal. They started manufacturing last year.

“We’re producing it commercially in a factory in Te Rapa and the research, all done at the University of Waikato, is ongoing,” Dr Verbeek says. Aduro Biopolymers has three full-time staff members and Dr Verbeek spends 20% of his time at the factory. Darren Harpur is CEO and former Waikato PhD student Dr Jim Bier is also part of the team.

Dr Verbeek says it hasn’t been an easy 10 years. Lack of funding in the early stages meant progress was slow, but they’ve now established some good relationships with partners who support research and production. “Alongside the University we have commercial partners in New Zealand and Australia as we continue to develop a range of bio-derived polymers and materials for use in various sectors, including horticulture, agriculture, manufacturing and construction.”

He says what’s so good about Novatein is that the starting material required for the product is obtained during meat processing, used during meat processing and disposed of in a similar way that it’s made – through rendering.

The IChemE awards will be announced at a dinner in Birmingham in November.  At this stage, Dr Verbeek’s not sure if he’ll be going. “It’s a long way to go for dinner, but if I can tie it in with something else, then maybe I’ll go.”

Twenty-one countries are represented at the awards, and the only other New Zealand finalist is in the same category as Dr Verbeek.

For more information on chemical engineering at Waikato:

Related stories

Hard work bears fruit for Waikato graduate

Lauren Werrey works as a Bear Manager at Animals Asia's Vietnam Bear Rescue Centre, looking…

Pacific high achiever

New Zealand-born Samoan Nicc Moeono will receive a Tertiary Achievement in Pacific Ako (TAPA) award…

Overseas exchange student lands dream job

Conor Gyde has won a coveted position on Fonterra’s Graduate Technical Programme and credits his…

SIMCRO Dr James Carson

Three winners at the KuDos Awards

An expert in heat transfer, a clever carbon dater and an excellent science teacher were…

Saving kōkako in Pureora Forest

Last weekend, the Waikato Science Club kicked off Conservation Week with a volunteering trip at…

Our city as a living laboratory

Research Officer Dr Kiri Wallace will talk about effective methods for kick-starting native tree regeneration…

Science and 1080

In her latest blog post, Dr Alison Campbell urges scientists and conservation workers to continue…

The seeds of inspiration

University of Waikato researchers have been awarded funding to investigate new ways of reducing earthquake…

Erin the Engineer rocking the world of robotics

Alumna Erin Sims is taking on a traditionally male dominated industry.

Major Endeavours for researchers

University of Waikato academics have been awarded funding for a broad range of major research…

Geologist, mum, volunteer, author – four seasons of career

Since graduating with a Bachelor of Science followed by a Master of Science in the…

Nevada web

Scholarships for a better environment

Seven students have been awarded WRC, Waikato Tainui - Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu scholarships.