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Key players in the global explosion of discoveries and interest in technologies that will fast track the development of affordable bio-based products, including bio fuels, will be in New Zealand this year for ABIC 2012.
Among the international leaders confirmed to attend the agricultural biotechnology event is Dr Gunter Festel, the founder of Swiss-based investment firm Festel Capital, which is putting considerable capital into bio energy projects. Also attending is Michael Christiansen who heads the China arm of Novozymes, producer of a wide range of bio solutions, including enzymes suitable for bio fuel production. Additionally, United States energy crop producer Ceres is sending its Chief Scientific Officer, Dr Richard Flavell.
ABIC, the world’s top agbiotech conference, is taking place in Rotorua in September, hosted by New Zealand’s biotechnology industry organisation NZBIO with support from its Australian counterpart AusBiotech. The Ministry of Science and Innovation is the founding partner for the event.
With the global industrial biotechnology industry set to grow by more than 400 per cent over the next five years, ABIC 2012 organisers say the industry’s potential to revolutionise sectors such as energy and consumer products will be an important topic in Rotorua.
“In those areas, there is a huge flowering of research and business uniting organisations ranging from chemical companies to agbiotech firms and energy providers, says Elspeth MacRae, General Manager Manufacturing and Bioproducts at crown research institute Scion, and a member of the ABIC programme committee.
“It’s very relevant for many countries, including New Zealand which has a fund of biological knowledge, an excellent environment, and is beginning to develop the bio-based products of the future.
“For example, Scion has developed a bio plastic/bio fibre technology that could replace agricultural fibres, such as hemp, flax and sisal, in plastic manufacturing. The major advantage of Scion’s new wood fibre dice is their ease of handling in conventional extruders, plus the strength they give to traditional polymers.”
Scion, which is also sponsoring ABIC 2012, is carrying out a range of cutting-edge research to create new materials, energy products and green chemicals with bio fuels and bio refineries – key elements of the emerging industrial biotechnology sector - a major focus.
ABIC 2012 Keynote speaker Dr Gunter Festel has predicted that bio energy technologies in particular will grow rapidly in the next decade as prices for crude oil steadily rise.
Greg Mann, General Manager of Whakatane-based forest biotechnology business ArborGen, which is breeding new tree stocks for a range of bio power and bio fuels applications, hopes a focus on bio energy at ABIC 2012 will kick-start change in New Zealand.
“Given that New Zealand has an energy strategy that envisages a future characterised by rising oil prices, penalties for greenhouse gas emissions and new bio energy technologies coming on stream, bio energy is a no-brainer.”
While it’s widely agreed that growing crops for bio fuel is not an option for New Zealand, Mann says we are well positioned to produce new fuels and wood pellets for bio power from trees.
“Wood is the best scale biomass option we have as an alternative to fossil fuels. We could supply 10 per cent of New Zealand’s transport fuel needs from forest residue and waste right now and we have the land to develop purpose grown forests, without compromising agricultural production, to dramatically increase that percentage.
“We could also be generating power from wood pellets, which is a sustainable alternative to lignite when Maui gas runs out, and exporting wood pellets to countries like Japan and South Korea.”
He backs the view of New Zealand’s Commissioner for the Environment that replacing imported diesel with locally produced bio fuels is a realistic target for New Zealand “Of course there are challenges, including immature technologies for conversion to bio fuels and a lack of infrastructure to distribute bio fuels to users but, around the world, a lot of resources are going toward finding solutions to those kinds of issues.”
The theme of ABIC 2012 is Adapting to a Changing World.
ABIC is attended by industry leaders, researchers and scientists, investors and policy makers who come together to learn about the latest advances in agbiotech and discuss how technologies can be applied to global issues. It will be held in Rotorua from 2- 6 September.
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