Sustainability Focus For Researchers

Climate change and environmental concerns are never far from our minds these days and especially so for science researchers within our universities and Crown Research Institutes. So this year’s Food, Fibre and Agritech Supernode Challenge has a special focus on primary sector sustainability. As global interest in waste mitigation and production of alternative foods with lower carbon profiles surges, University of Canterbury researchers are rising to the challenge.

Reducing emissions through application of greentech is not only good for the planet, but also represents a substantial economic opportunity. Something the global investment community is rapidly getting on board with. It is estimated that over $100 billion was invested in cleantech or decarbonisation technologies by private equity or venture capital investors in 2021 globally and more than half of that was for early stage companies. Those figures do not include hundreds of millions that have poured into plant-based food companies as consumer demand explodes.

The recent news of a US$15M series A investment into Leaft Foods, from highly respected deep tech investor Khosla Ventures, illustrates that research based Canterbury companies can foot it on the global stage. Founded by agri-food pioneers Maury and John Penno, the company aims to produce high value Rubisco protein directly from leafy crops with a 10x lower carbon footprint per hectare than conventional dairy protein. Food process engineer and Leaft CEO Ross Milne learned his trade under the tutelage of Associate Professor Ken Morison at the University of Canterbury.

In fact Morison and PhD candidate Mahnaz Shaverdi form one of the researcher teams involved in this year’s Food, Fibre & Agritech Supernode Accelerator programme (FFA). They are looking into how production technologies from the dairy industry can be applied to processing of plant protein. University of Canterbury biotechnologist Associate Professor David Leung is excited about the application of specialised plant varieties in solving environmental problems. With post-doctoral research associate Dr Gowtham Janardhanan, the team are focused on the vexatious issue of extracting nitrates from waterways with plant biomass that can be recycled as an energy feedstock.

Finalists in the programme will present at E Tipu – BOMA Agri Summit in Christchurch 21-22 June.

Food, fibre and agritech contributes a huge share of Canterbury’s regional economic activity. Connecting researcher talent to local industry as well as identifying sources of capital for good ideas are all part of the grand plan to build capability. #FFA2022 is supported by ChristchurchNZ, KiwiNet and the Canterbury Mayoral Forum alongside ThincLab Canterbury, University of Canterbury Centre for Entrepreneurship and B.linc as delivery partners.

Image credit: Paul Spence