New material innovations start with research and development. Through an iterative process, researchers (often alongside their industry partners) make and test materials until the new material has all of the desired properties for that application. This can take years. Next, the new material needs to be taken out of the lab and into the real world. This presents a whole new series of challenges.
Critical success factors to drive local development and uptake of sustainable new materials as part of a circular economy include:
- Regulation that incentivises industry to use more sustainable materials. Product bans or other incentives can help drive uptake of new materials that have been specifically designed to replace problematic materials or products, or address international standards and non-tarrif barriers.
- Connection across the value chain. Researchers, brand owners and manufacturers all need to be well connected to identify material needs, capitalise on innovation opportunities, and ensure the application need is met. A research and innovation system that supports risk takers and bold ideas is fundamental to achieving this.
- Supply of appropriate feedstock for scale-up. There are huge opportunities within Aotearoa New Zealand to use biomass to make new materials, particularly using the waste from one process as the raw material for another. Businesses need to be connected with other businesses and researchers to identify these opportunities.
- Scale-up facilities to trial and demonstrate new materials beyond proof-of-concept when local manufacturers are unwilling to take risks with their equipment for new materials. These facilities are critical for developing the markets needed for scale-up and are currently lacking, particularly for the equipment modifications needed to process biomass into new products.
- Manufacturing infrastructure, which may require modification of existing equipment or development of new facilities, depending on the material. Aotearoa New Zealand has the potential to meet growing global demands for bio-based materials but requires onshore manufacturing processes to do so.
- Development of product prototypes, to demonstrate performance for the application and allow for market testing. For new materials, providing evidence of circularity at this stage is important.
- Systems to support circularity of new products. When new materials are coming onto the market their whole life cycle, including end-of-life options, needs to be considered and infrastructure and systems developed to keep the resource in circulation.
Actions to support uptake of bio-based materials will be covered further in Scion’s Roadmap for New Zealand’s New Plastics Economy.