Biodegradable plastic from animal protein waste

University of Waikato researchers have invented a novel manufacturing process to turn low-value animal protein into high-value biodegradable plastic.

In New Zealand, bloodmeal is produced as a co-product from the meat industry and is available in large quantities, typically used as animal feed or fertilizer. The new product, called Novatein™, uses bloodmeal and standard plastic processing equipment to produce bioplastic with a wide range of applications including seedling trays, plant pots, pegs, and vine clips.

Its unusual ingredient – bloodmeal – offers a cost-competitive, sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastic resins. Its bloodmeal colour can also be modified, giving it a translucent, honey-coloured appearance.

"For me, the most gratifying thing is being able to use low-value sustainable materials to create a high-value product that breaks down without polluting the environment," says University of Waikato chemical and biological engineer Dr Johan Verbeek.

This novel bioplastic material can be reformulated, modified and optimised to suit a particular product's attributes. For example, pots, containers, pegs and weed matting have different characteristics and properties, so the bioplastic formulation would be different for each one.

The research project won a Bayer Innovation Award for Dr Verbeek and his team and has attracted substantial investment from Wallace Corporation Limited in a newly-created University subsidiary company, Aduro Biopolymers LP, to take Novatein to the market.

Further research is now underway to develop second and third generation bio-resins with a wider range of applications.