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

Student research opportunity with Hawke’s Bay Biodiversity – apply now!

Hawke’s Bay Biodiversity and the University of Waikato are collaborating to offer a research opportunity…

Waikato scientists ranked as some of most-influential in the world

23 Waikato scientists appear in a new international database of the 100,000 most influential scientists…

Armon Tamatea

University of Waikato secures more than $6m in MBIE research funding

The University of Waikato has received more than $6 million in research funding from the…

Dr Lee Streeter

Waikato researcher given ‘Kudos’ for big problem

Dr Lee Streeter has solved a problem. But not just any problem – one that’s…

UoW Engineering

Top researcher recognised for highly cited work

Waikato researchers converged in Melbourne recently for the 22nd International Conference on Composite Materials (ICCM),…

Dr Chris Tanner (NIWA), Associate Professor Maui Hudson, Tim Manakau

Celebrating Lakes Resilience

A four-year MBIE-funded research programme led by the University’s Environmental Research Institute and School of…

Kudos 2019

Time-of-flight technology and internet behaviour secure Kudos Awards for top researchers

Two University of Waikato researchers have been recognised for their scientific prowess at the Kudos…

Jeremy Zolnai-Lucas

Nice work if you can get it

Young Londoner needs a job, walks into Waikato and becomes a research programmer.

University of Waikato partnership with Genomics Aotearoa

University of Waikato extends partnership with Genomics Aotearoa

Key leaders from the University of Waikato met with representatives from Genomics Aotearoa (GA) today…

Ethan Flintoft receiving Award from NZGS

Ethan’s our new poster boy

The research work of a first-year civil engineering student at Waikato University has earned him…


Torutek, truly a Waikato business

There’s a technology start-up based at Waikato Innovation Park whose workforce have something in common…

Shalini Guleria

You can 3D print anything, even cancer cells

University of Waikato Master of Science student Shalini Guleria has developed a new way to…