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Mixed Greens: Billabong founder rides bioplastics wave

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Australian bioplastics maker and supplier, Plantic Technologies, has announced a major new commercial supply agreement with Coles, which will see the local supermarket chain adopt Plantic’s trademarked advanced bioplastic product, eco Plastic, for its fresh food packaging. The deal – Plantic’s first with an Australian supermarket – was announced at the opening of the company’s new expanded manufacturing facility at its Altona, Melbourne headquarters – a move the company expects will increase its production capacity by 400 per cent.

The new plant was officially opened this morning by federal climate and innovation and industry minister Greg Combet, who took the opportunity to stick a feather in the government’s green innovation cap.   “Plantic Technologies was born out of a government-funded research project in 2000 which invited the clean technology industry to collaboratively find a solution to alternative food packaging,” Combet said. “(It) ticks many of the boxes for the future of clever manufacturing in Australia and demonstrates how collaboration between research and industry can pay off,” he said. “They have taken Australian research from the Cooperative Research Centre for International Food Manufacture and Packaging Science and used it to develop commercially attractive packaging products, create local jobs and export internationally.”

Plantic, which was acquired by environmentalist and founder of surf wear retailer Billabong in late 2010, makes its eco Plastic product using unique patented polymer technology, based on the use of high-amylose corn starch, which is derived from specialised non-GM (hybrid) corn. It uses up to 80 per cent certified renewable material and has ultra high barrier properties to enhance the storage of fresh food. Its manufacture uses 25 per cent less energy compared to conventional polymers, and requires no investment in new processing or packaging technology. Coles is one of the first customers to sign up for the product, which Plantic should save the grocer over 13 million KwH of energy over the course of 12 months, the equivalent of powering over 2000 Australian homes, and cut greenhouse gas emissions by five thousand tonnes – the equivalent to planting more than 750,000 trees.

Brendan Morris, Plantic CEO, described the deal as “a major milestone,” and said the new expanded Altona facility would help meet growing demand. “In an increasingly carbon-conscious world, we are well positioned to meet a market need for a superior packaging offering that is cost-competitive and more environmentally friendly to produce,” Morris said. “It has been an exceptional year for Plantic, and we look forward to further collaborations both domestically and internationally.” This kind of upbeat talk should be music to the ears of Merchant who, according to the Financial Review, is yet to record a positive return on his $10 million investment. AFR.com says accounts filed with ASIC show Plantic Technologies recorded a $10.2 million loss in 2011, which included $5 million in fees related to manufacturing and engineering.

Barefoot and nominated

Barefoot Power – a Sydney-based company specialising in providing affordable solar power products for Africa’s poor – has been selected alongside seven other international organisations  as a finalist for the 2012 Ashden Awards, the world’s leading green energy prize. The finalists are in the running for over £120,000 ($A192,500) prize money, with the winners to be announced at a ceremony in London on May 30. With the help of microfinance organisations, Barefoot Power has installed a range of solar power products across Africa, focusing on communities with limited or no access to grid power. Products range from desk lamps to complete kits for use by community homes, clinics and schools – including more than 300,000 lanterns and lighting kits to the rural poor in Kenya, Uganda and elsewhere. It is estimated that around 1.4 billion people around the world lack access to modern energy infrastructure, while three billion rely on ‘traditional biomass’ and coal as their main fuel sources.

Closing call for Ignition acceleration

The May 27 closing date is looming for applications to enter Ignition Labs’ intensive three-month program, in which five high-potential cleantech businesses – based on software, low-cost hardware or materials – will be selected to receive hands-on mentoring, $25,000 in seed capital and participation in a roadshow in Australia and the US. ‘ Ignition Labs – Australia’s first clean technology seed accelerator program – is part of an emerging trend of niche accelerators, with Greenstart in San Francisco focusing on Digital Cleantech and SURGE in Houston focusing on Cleanweb. The program, which is scheduled to start on July 16, with the roadshow in late October, has the ultimate aim of securing initial customers and capital, and features mentors including the founders of Ausra, Chromasun, CIMTECH, Clarity, GoGet and the Republic of Everyone; as well as representatives from ATP Innovations, DLA Piper, Griffith Hack and Starfish Ventures, and early investors in Carbon Systems, PCTools, Posse, Seek and Startmate.  

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  • Joe H

    Interesting comments about Plantic Technologies’ eco plastic. Why is there no mention of the fact that this supposedly “innovative” and “green” and “clever manufacturing technology” is simply using a less energy-intensive plastic to wrap fresh fruit and vegetables? Why is there any need for Coles to wrap fresh fruit and vegetables in plastic in the first place?

    Would we not be better off visiting our local fruit and vegetable market where fresh food is sold unpackaged? Imagine how many million kWh of energy that would save.