Associate Professor Johan Verbeek
Qualifications: BEng (Chemical Engineering); MEng (Chemical Engineering); PhD (Engineering), University of Pretoria, MIPENZ
Taking materials that would otherwise be thrown away and turning them into useful products has become the research focus for Dr Johan Verbeek. Since his tertiary days in South Africa, Johan's wealth of knowledge in the engineering field of sustainable products has skyrocketed, which has led to a number of innovative developments in the engineering industry.
Johan began his engineering study with a Bachelor of Engineering in Chemical Engineering at the University of Pretoria in South Africa. His enthusiasm for engineering led him to a Masters of Engineering, also in Chemical Engineering. His masters topic looked at biodegradable polymers and using plastic soft drink bottles to make bio-friendly materials. It was at this point that Johan discovered his passion for working in the field of sustainability. He followed his ME with a PhD in Engineering, also at the University of Pretoria and this time looked at polymer composites and using mining waste to make materials such as gib board.
In New Zealand alone, the polymer industry has a turnover of more than 1 billion dollars. Polymers, especially those used for packaging, have received a lot of attention in the last few years, mainly for their perceived environmental threat. Polymers on their own often do not have all the required properties for the intended application. It is therefore common to compound plastic with various additives to improve their properties. This is mainly achieved by fibre and particulate reinforcements. To address the environmental concerns around polymers, extensive research is conducted to find suitable alternatives, such as bio-derived and biodegradable materials. Other options to ease the environmental pressure are also pursued and include the use of sustainable materials in conjunction with conventional plastics.
My interest lies mainly in waste and by-product valorisation with an emphasis on renewable materials and biological products. In recent years, we have developed protein-based thermoplastics from bloodmeal. This project has lead to the establishment of a spin-off company (Novatein Ltd) which is the process of registering world wide patents (NZ national granted on 2009). This area covers a wide range of topics, such as polymer extrusion, rheology, material properties, protein analysis, chemical modification of proteins as well as protein composites and nano-composites.
Other topics of biological nature include protein recovery from waste water and recovery and modification of chicken feathers suitable for polymer composites. I also have a strong interest in polymer composites, such as particulate polymer composites and short fibre polymer composites.
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