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Research boost for $2.6 billion plastics industry

The University of Auckland
Media Release
02 October 2008

Research boost for $2.6 billion plastics industry

A national Plastics Centre of Excellence at The University of Auckland's Tamaki Campus will be officially opened by the Prime Minister, Helen Clark, this Friday 3 October at 3pm.

The Centre brings together plastics research in New Zealand in a fully co-ordinated manner for the first time.

Supported by up to $5 million in government funding it is a joint initiative of the University and Plastics New Zealand, the industry's trade association. The government support, from the Partnerships for Excellence scheme intended to encourage university-industry R&D partnerships, is being matched dollar for dollar by the plastics industry.

The Centre, based in the Ray Meyer Building at the Tamaki Campus, has "a distinct commercial bias", says its newly appointed director, Len Harvey, and is already offering its services to New Zealand companies.

"We will develop leading-edge technologies (polymers and processes), conduct plastics industry specific research, and carry out graduate and industry training. We have just secured two Technology New Zealand grants totalling nearly $700,000 for research into PVC replacement and a polylactic acid (PLA) project aimed at improving the tear strength of biodegradable plastics."

The new Centre will house not only University of Auckland researchers but also collaborate with researchers from other tertiary institutions, CRIs and industry, making it a valuable national resource. The Plastics Centre will co-exist with various other materials research centres (composites, conducting polymers, hybrid plastics and others) which will provide a one-stop shop for innovative, high-value multi-material products and devices.

"We also plan to build international relationships and alliances as well as attracting top international researchers and lecturers."

Plastics New Zealand chief executive Robin Martin says the Centre's formation is arguably the biggest event in the industry's recent history. "The ability to direct and co-ordinate research into new products and processes is critical to the plastics industry's growth strategy."

The New Zealand plastics industry has a turnover of more than 2.6 billion dollars, employs more than 8000 people in 400 business enterprises and has been growing at 7 percent a year, notes Mr Martin. Turnover is projected to rise to 4 billion dollars by 2015.

"It supplies different market sectors building, packaging, agriculture, IT, housing and appliance components to name a few and more than half its output is exported either directly or indirectly. All meat and dairy products that leave this country are packaged in some form of plastic."

Research conducted by the Plastics Centre of Excellence would help the industry take advantage of the increased worldwide demand for innovative, lightweight and environmentally sustainable products and services.

The Centre has the expertise and equipment to service the industry's needs, says Mr Martin. "While there is an emphasis on research into adaptation of polymers for specific uses it will analyse and test a wide range of products."


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