Green, gold and edible kiwifruit eco spoon
03 Sep 2010
Turning sewage into electricity and kiwifruit into plastic spoons might seem like the stuff of science fiction, but it’s all in a day’s work for Rotorua research institute Scion.
The government-owned institution is behind some ground-breaking Kiwi innovation - new technology that uses organic waste and materials to come up with useful products for everyday life.
Scion’s latest invention, ‘melting’ one kiwifruit so it can be turned into 100 disposable bioplastic ‘spoons’, is currently in the process of being patented.
The 100% environmentally-friendly spoon-and-knife utensils, ingeniously dubbed ‘spifes’, will be included in packets of kiwifruit sold overseas by Zespri, one of New Zealand’s largest kiwifruit growers.
Researcher Martin Markotsis told a local newspaper that the secret to the kiwifruit ‘spifes’ was a special chemical process.
"We do a reactive transformation - that sounds pretty magical, doesn’t it? We’re checking whether we can get a patent. [But] if we say too much, we can’t patent it," he says.
Waste into gold
One of Scion’s most exciting new projects is their ‘waste to gold’ research - which aims to take biosolid waste or sludge from Rotorua’s municipal wastewater treatment plant, and turn it into modern day ‘gold’ - such as chemicals, fertilisers and electricity.
The new technology, which is still at pilot stage, also has the potential to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and leachates that arise from organic waste.
A new plant will be built in 2011 to trial the project. The self-sufficient plant will be powered by heat and gases released from the process.
If successful, the ‘waste to gold’ project will eventually remove up to 8.5 tonnes of biosolid waste going into Rotorua landfills, saving the community about NZ$4 million a year.
Scion is one of New Zealand’s leading institutes for research into bioplastic technologies - one of the fastest-growing industrial sectors worldwide, with a growth of 10 - 20% annually despite the economic downturn.
Scion team leader Dr Allan Fernyhough says that there is a global hunger for bioplastic products. Products such as the kiwifruit-derived spifes will prove very popular overseas.
"Now is the time for New Zealand industries and companies with eco-conscious customers to consider bioplastics as the sustainable alternative to petroleum-based products or packaging."
Bioplastics offers great environmental advantages including waste reduction, reduced carbon footprints and biodegradability.
Nekta of the gods
New Zealand company Nekta Nutrition is also using the hairy-but-humble kiwifruit as the backbone of their business - this time in food technology.
Nektabake has been developed as a new fat-replacement ingredient used in baking. The kiwifruit-derived carbohydrate extract can be used as a replacement for butter, animal fats, oils and casein-based products.
Napier company Goodtime Foods - an early adopter of the ingredient - has been using it to bake the classic Kiwi meat pie. The Nektabake-based pies have only 5% fat, and the company is looking at creating one with 3% fat.
Goodtime Foods’ owner Phil Pollett says the pies have been so successful that the company will definitely be using Nektabake in more products.
"Nektabake has replaced seven ingredients, three imported from the US. It has made our pastry process much easier. The average New Zealand meat pie has 16% fat; using Nektabake, our Metro pie range is a very low 5% and has the Heart Foundation tick."
Nektabake owner Adrian Tong says Nektabake can be used to bake anything from low-fat cakes and muffins to scones, biscuits, energy bars and breads.
The company also makes Nektacreme, a fat and dairy-free frozen fruit dessert; Nektaplus, a non-dairy beverage; and Nektalce, an ice drink mix. About 60% of the company’s kiwifruit-derived products are exported to Asia.
Background: Te Puke - NZ's kiwifruit capital
Te Puke, located in New Zealand’s sunny Bay of Plenty region, is known as the ‘kiwifruit capital of the world’. It is a short drive from Rotorua, and the Scion Research facility.
Each picking season, millions of trays of green and gold kiwifruit leave Te Puke for markets all over the world.
The town was first settled in 1879 and by 1881 had become a thriving farming community with 25 wooden buildings including two hotels, two general stores, a butcher, a post office and a blacksmith’s.
A combination of factors including ideal climate and soil makes Te Puke a great horticultural location. The first kiwifruit, or Chinese gooseberries, were grown in the region in 1937. The brown fruit flourished and proved so popular that the first overseas exports were made in 1959, under the label ‘kiwifruit’.
The town celebrates its kiwifruit heritage with a famous landmark, the giant kiwifruit. The fourth leg of American reality show The Amazing Race season 13 was filmed in Te Puke in 2008.
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