A new University of Waikato research project will bring together a world-class team of researchers to look at ways to develop algae for environmentally progressive commercial use. The University is putting in more than $9 million, with a grant from the Tertiary Education Commission’s Entrepreneurial Universities fund contributing $4 million.
The work will focus on algal biotechnology, using science to grow a new and valuable industry in the Bay of Plenty, and New Zealand. It will be based on producing more algal species, such as kelp, red algae, and sea lettuce, then developing bioproducts like animal feed supplements, cosmetics and human foods. Other goals include addressing some of the country’s pressing primary sector issues by reducing methane emissions from cattle through improving feed, and creating environmentally benign solutions to agriculture and horticulture pathogens such as PSA.
The lead researcher will be Dr Marie Magnusson, who is coming from Australia and is an emerging leader in her field. She will focus on ways to use algae and extracts for human food, and nutraceutical and pharmaceutical uses. Dr Magnusson will lead a team of new researchers and technical staff, guided by University of Waikato staff including Chair of Coastal Science Professor Chris Battershill. They will be based at the Coastal Marine Field Station at Sulphur Point in Tauranga, with work due to start in September.
Relying on strong science, the products the researchers develop will be targeted for markets where there is demand, with an eye to industry development, and future job creation in the Bay of Plenty and the rest of the country. New Zealand’s aquaculture industry was worth nearly $500 million in 2015, and is estimated to grow to $1 billion by 2025, with the project aiming to contribute significantly to that growth.
The initiative will work with organisations locally, nationally and internationally, and partner with private companies where appropriate. Staff will work with local iwi and Māori businesses in the region as a priority. The University of Waikato will be backing the research and entrepreneurial work with an increase in undergraduate and graduate teaching, including offering an Aquaculture major.
Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Bruce Clarkson says the University is extremely pleased to have attracted someone of Dr Magnusson's calibre to the position. "The project is a perfect fit, supporting research and development in Tauranga and across the Bay of Plenty. It is built on a strong platform created by the hard work of Professor Battershill and his team in establishing the Coastal Marine Field Station with support from the Bay of Plenty Regional Council, iwi and many other stakeholders."
The Minister of Education Chris Hipkins says it is an exciting development for the University of Waikato, Tauranga and the whole of New Zealand. “By supporting entrepreneurship at universities, we can help strengthen innovation, build academic and industry connections and grow the pipeline of entrepreneurs.This type of research and technology will be critical as we look for solutions for things like reducing cattle methane emissions, limiting nutrient run-off from pasture, and fighting agricultural and horticultural diseases in an environmentally sustainable way.”