Insights from industry

Development of Plastics from Biomaterials: An Interview with Darren Harpur

Darren Harpur, Acting CEO at Aduro Biopolymers, talks to AZoM about the Development of Plastics from Biomaterials. 

KK - Please can you summarise the main products and services by Aduro Biopolymers?

DH - Aduro Biopolymers (Aduro) is a Limited Partnership formed to develop and commercialise a diverse range of biopolymer materials derived from natural resources for use in plastics, composites, manufacturing, agriculture, and the building and construction sectors.

The company’s focus is the development and delivery of high quality novel and natural materials for use in these sectors by accessing the very best science in New Zealand, and from around the world.

Aduro will develop in-house expertise in the research and development of these materials, and will partner with research organisations to leverage intellectual property held in those organisations.

Aduro’s lead material is Novatein, a bioplastic in later stage development that will be price competitive with petrochemical plastics. Novatein’s bioplastic technology is based on intellectual property developed by Dr Johan Verbeek and his team at the School of Engineering at the University of Waikato Hamilton, New Zealand. 

The core ingredient of Novatein is bloodmeal, and Novatein formulations can be optimised and tailored to fit a chosen product’s attributes. This means Novatein can be considered a platform bioplastic, from which multiple products could be manufactured.

Aduro has also partnered with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) to develop an as-yet-to-be defined product for the Australian market using Novatein. Should the market proposition be similar, the same product could be manufactured and marketed in New Zealand.

Aduro offers a compelling value proposition for biomaterial technology developed in New Zealand or by international partners wishing to enter the Australasian market.

New Zealand research organisations are often faced with the dilemma of not having a defined New Zealand based commercial pathway for their research, and as a result licensing to off-shore companies and the loss of the opportunity to the New Zealand market is the result.

Aduro fills this gap in the market by offering a realistic New Zealand and Australasian based commercial pathway for technologies developed by New Zealand and international researchers, with the intent to expand into overseas markets. 

Aduro will seek export markets for these technologies through the establishment of joint venture partnerships or licensing arrangements.

KK - What are the main areas of application for your biopolymers?

DH - Aduro is targeting the agricultural, horticultural and red meat industries with Novatein, and is seeking product development partnerships with local and international companies.

Our technology pipeline includes materials for filtration of valuable, nuisance or waste chemicals from manufacturing processes, natural polymers for material reinforcement or composite product manufacture, and non-blood based bioplastic technologies using low value or waste streams.

KK - Can you discuss the science behind the development of Novatein and the inspiration behind this novel concept?

DH - Proteins are polymers like any thermoplastic. However, they cannot be processed at a temperature that doesn't also lead to degradation. 

In bloodmeal strong hydrogens bonding, hydrophobic interactions and chemical cross-links prevent processing. R&D was required to find a way around this problem and also still make it economically feasible. We use a cocktail of environmentally friendly chemicals to enhance the protein's processability to the point where it can be extruded before degradation occurs.

The idea came from a research group at Waikato University that is passionate about the environment and sustainability.

Using a co-product (bloodmeal) from one industry (meat industry) and adding value to it without creating more waste was the aim.

KK - How are you working with the red meat and poultry industry to develop such a novel biopolymer?

DH - Our partnership with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) began about 18 months ago during a presentation of Novatein and its application to the red meat industry in New Zealand. MLA saw an opportunity for Novatein in Australia and our partnership was formed.

The objective during this partnership is to identify a product for use in the Australian market by holding interviews with end users/adopters in the target markets mentioned earlier.

We are not interested in producing a product that does not solve a need or problem, or does not create an opportunity for an end user, so we are looking for a product demand that we can fulfil with Novatein.

Several product opportunities have been identified, and during the balance of our partnership with MLA, Aduro will optimise and reformulate Novatein to meet the product specification advised to us by the end user.

The end goal is to establish granule manufacturing capability in Australia to produce the granules for the product, or to make the end product ourselves. Ideally we are looking to partner with an end user and a product manufacturer, with Aduro providing the granules.

KK - How will this innovative method benefit the end-user?

DH - In many different ways, and probably in order of relevance:

  • It will solve a problem in a manufacturing process, where an article being used is contributing to that problem.
  • It will provide a competitive edge or marketing opportunity not able to be found elsewhere.
  • Novatein can be manufactured inexpensively and without complexity, making the material cost competitive, increasing the likely adoption by manufacturers and end users.
  • Disposal costs at end of life are expected to be lower; the material is biodegradable and compostable (not yet measured against standards).

KK - How do you plan on using this method to sustainably deliver returns to the meat processing industry?

DH - Aduro is looking to partner with the red meat industry for the production of Novatein granules, rather than seek simple supply arrangements.

We believe the production of granules is only one further step to the production of bloodmeal, and that by investing in this additional step, bloodmeal can be turned into a more valuable product for a wider range of applications.

KK - Why is this novel method a key point in this company’s development?

DH - Novatein is Aduro Biopolymers lead material, and is nearer to productisation than other opportunities in the pipeline.

The opportunities presented by Novatein are of real and validated benefit to the red meat industry and to end users, which in turn provides opportunities for Aduro Biopolymers to create niche market opportunities for its products.

KK - How does this novel biopolymer material compare to alternative material with similar areas of application currently in the market?

DH - The main differences are that Novatein begins with an inexpensive, already processed feedstock, and that the feedstock is then processed using a simple manufacturing process, into Novatein granules.

This means that generally speaking, Novatein can be supplied at prices that should enable faster adoption of the material. The resultant granules have best application in injection moulding or extruded product applications, and carry compostable /biodegradation properties (not yet tested against standards).

KK - Does this new method of producing biopolymers carry any challenges?

DH - Once formulations have been optimised for processability and tailored to a targeted product’s specification, the actual manufacture of the product using the formulated granules will not be challenging.

The R&D itself has presented challenges as does any new material where the development of it is the first of its kind, and new ground is being broken.

KK - How will Novatein help solve some of the problems currently concerning the effects of plastics in the environment?

DH - Aduro hopes to contribute to solving many of these problems by offering an inexpensive, uncomplicated method and process for the production of products using Novatein as a material. Consumers and industry want to adopt bioplastic products, but whilst they demand a premium the uptake will be unimpressive.

Aduro hopes that its offering will help consumers and industry see bioplastics as a real and viable alternative.

KK - Where can we find further information on your latest innovation?

DH – Further information can be found at the Novatein website.

About Darren Harpur

Darren Harpur is the Acting CEO at Aduro Biopolymers. Darren comes from a background of 15 years experience in the financial sector, ranging from international trade and finance, commercial lending and retail banking.

Darren managed a business contracted central Government to deliver business management and advisory services to small and medium enterprises in the greater Lake Taupo District, and has owned several businesses himself. He has acted as a mentor to business owners under a nationally funded Business Mentor program.

Most recently Darren co-managed a large scale residential gated golf estate. Darren has a broad and extensive knowledge of risks facing early stage business start ups and has experience in business planning and strategic planning.


Darren also undertakes a Commercial Manager at WaikatoLink, the technology transfer office and commercial arm of the University of Waikato. In this role he is responsible for the management of several spin out companies including Aduro Biopolymers. As a commercial manager Darren is also involved in creating value for businesses out of new research carried out at the University of Waikato.

Darren works closely with researchers at the University to help shape these opportunities early in the research pipeline, and engages with industry to help identify the needs and problems that exist.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of AZoM.com Limited T/A AZoNetwork the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and conditions of use of this website.

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