Wallace Corp backs Ligar to commercialise novel polymer products
by Fiona Rotherham
Feb. 12 (BusinessDesk) - Ligar, a startup developing molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs), has secured an investment of hundreds of thousands of dollars from Wallace Corp, operator of New Zealand's largest animal products rendering facility, to fund a range of industrial trials that could see it commercialise some products this year.
Ligar is developing molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) for purification and extraction that solve a growing need for many industries to extract both valuable and unwanted substances, such as consumable liquids, dissolved minerals, water or ingredients used in manufacturing.
It has already used its specially-designed molecules to remove agri-chemicals and smoke taint from wine and is now investigating food and beverage purification and metal extraction.
The science behind Ligar originated and continues to be developed by its chief scientific officer Miruna Petcu, supported by a polymer development team at Wintec. The technology has been in development for three years and the spin-out company set up in 2013 in a partnership between WaikatoLink, Waikato University’s commercialisation arm, and Wintec subsidiary LearningWorks, which is commercialising its MIP research.
Pectu said molecularly imprinted polymers are like hungry plastic sponges that can be formed into any shape to exactly mirror and bind to any sized target in a solution.
Previously MPIs could only sense and detect molecules but Ligar’s technology also allows them to effectively filter and extract wanted and unwanted ones and at a speed and quantity that opens up a wide range of commercial applications for the first time.
Graham Shortland, Wallace Corporation chief executive, said it was keen to invest in innovative technology that allowed it to deliver more value from its raw materials.
“We first became interested in Ligar’s technology due to its potential to recover chromium used to tan hides, which makes good financial and environmental sense. We quickly saw that Ligar’s novel technology had commercial potential in a wide range of areas so we invested in the whole business.”
Shortland said the technology, if proven, could save the company’s tanning operations hundreds of thousands of dollars a year in chromium costs as it will be able to recycle and reuse chromium and reduce its environmental footprint.
Two years ago Wallace Corp invested in another WaikatoLink spin-out, Aduro Biopolymers, which has developed a biopolymer from the bloodmeal produced from its rendering business. It's a more environmentally-friendly replacement for petrochemical biopolymers used when dressing sheep at the meatworks and adds value to bloodmeal which is typically just a commodity product, Shortland said.
Aduro has also just signed a manufacturing agreement for New Zealand, Australia and south-east Asia with US-based Eastern Bioplastics to develop an absorbent biopolymer pad based on chicken feathers that can be used to soak up oil.
Ligar chief executive Nigel Slaughter said the Wallace Corp investment was timely because it had identified a number of high potential market opportunities with industry partners offshore.
“Wine is a good example. The Australian state of Victoria lost A$100 million in 2009 alone due to smoke taint in wine caused by bushfires. Over the last few years that figure would total close to half a billion dollars, and that’s just one contaminant in one part of the world,” he said.
Metal recovery from industrial processes was another area being investigated because currently 20 percent of the chromium used in the tanning process ends up in landfill along with removing arsenic from water used in production processes.
One of the highest value opportunities could be extracting rare earth elements that are in huge demand worldwide for use in mobile phones and other high tech products including electric cars, Slaughter said.
Ligar has had $436,000 in investment from KiwiNet’s PreSeed Accelerator Fund, with the funding matched by WaikatoLink and Wintec.
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