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Seeding Business Success

Clear Day

An entrepreneurial Canterbury company is giving the term ‘seed capital’ a new meaning, and its new technology could lead to an increase in local content in cosmetic and pharmaceutical products.

Solvent Rescue hopes its unique design solvent distillation plant will provide the impetus for a promising new industry in extracting oil from oilseeds, and at the same time prove a useful diversification for the farming sector.

The company has just completed trials using Meadowfoam, a new crop from Oregon now being grown by a group of South Otago farmers. Chris Bathurst, of Solvent Rescue says Meadowfoam seed oil is used internationally for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and industrial uses, replacing traditional sperm whale oil. It is excellent for using in lipstick compounds, for example, and could prove to be a more environmentally acceptable substitute to whale oil.

“We have developed a way to extract more oil from the same amount of seed,” he says. “Traditional mechanical extraction gives an 18% oil yield. We can lift this to around 28% by using solvent extraction and distillation, which also gives a much higher return to the producer.”

Solvent Rescue’s core business is as obvious as its name and a far cry from the delicate seed extraction techniques it is now pursuing. But the expertise gained in dealing with hazardous waste like paint solvents, dry cleaning sludges and chemicals has stood the company in good stead for its diversification.

“We received a grant from Technology New Zealand’s Grants for Private Sector Research and Development (GPSRD) which helped us test the new technology,” he says. “Although we are using the same basic principle, there were some big questions we needed to address before we knew whether it would work and how we could move from the conventional technology with its drawbacks.

“Technology New Zealand funding helped us move through to a positive outcome, although we confirmed that setting up new technology or seed oil extraction was an expensive exercise.”

John Gibson, investment manager of the GPSRD fund at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology, says the R&D project fits nicely in the criteria for funding assistance –helping a technical or technological risk taker. The fund is intended to encourage small and medium enterprise private investment in R&D, by providing up to one third of the cost of the research. While Meadowfoam seed has been the focus for the initial development, other seeds that contain valuable oil could be successfully processed by this method.

Chris Bathurst says it offers a value-added industry for New Zealand. “Traditionally, seeds are sent overseas for extraction and once they leave here there is no chance to do any secondary processing or add value. We believe we can use the technology to create a plant that can be run economically for the small New Zealand market, but big enough to be a commercial entity.

Trials are underway to check the economics of production and Chris Bathurst is confident that another innovative niche industry could develop.

Backgrounder Grants for Private Sector R&D

*This is the newest scheme run under the Technology New Zealand umbrella, launched in September 2000.

*Grants are targeted specifically to technologically aware SMEs (less than $50m turnover). The aim is to increase the level of private sector expenditure in R&D.

*Support of up to 33.3% of R&D investments, to a maximum of $100,000 is available for qualifying projects.

*Latest figures show that around $1.5m per month is being invested in private sector R&D projects by GPSRD.

*The scheme has invested nearly $12million in the R&D programmes of 201 companies, to the end of May 2001

*GPSRD is the first of the Technology New Zealand schemes to operate exclusively via the Internet, with initial registration through its website,

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