CSIRO awards $2m funding to manufacturing start-up

An organic manufacturer has secured almost $2 million in government funding to aid its ambitions to take a slice of the multibillion dollar global export pallet market.


Biofiba, based in NSW, produces a simulated 100% natural composite made from hemp fibre and natural starches, replacing timber, plastic and polystyrene in the manufacture of export pallets.


According to Biofiba managing director Laurie Drummett, the product will save trees and eliminate the reliance on fossil fuels.


“An export pallet has a very short life span and within approximately six months after use, a Biofiba pallet will decompose and biodegrade into harmless, environmentally safe garden mulch,” he says.


CSIRO will invest up to $1.97 million to fund a collaboration through its Future Manufacturing Flagship to tailor the material formulation and high speed production of Biofiba.


Biofiba, which launched in 2007, will receive the funding through CSIRO’s Australian Growth Partnership program, which was created to offer funding to SMEs in an area of national priority. The program offers between $500,000 and $2 million per business.


The funding is intended for high potential, technology-receptive companies so that they can access CSIRO R&D capability and intellectual property.


The AGP program is designed to assist SMEs overcome existing technical issues, therefore providing them with an opportunity to significantly accelerate their growth in high impact industries.


CSIRO anticipates being in a position to allocate investment capital up to $16 million in total throughout the 2008-2012 period to successful applicants.


In exchange for providing this capital, CSIRO will seek to secure a return on its investment.


Announcing the funding, Innovation Minister Kim Carr said Biofiba organic pallets will deliver “significant environment advantages” over traditional wooden pallets.


“To be able to use the resources of the CSIRO to deliver this type of solution, which has the capacity to improve Australia’s triple bottom line, is an exciting prospect,” he said.


Drummett says the company was attracted to the AGP program because it could deliver a combination of benefits, including the ability to develop the commercial process and validate the product’s biodegradability.


According to Drummett, around 40% of all timber harvested around the world is used to make timber pallets.


“The vast majority are produced for one-way, one-time used then discarded. They transport disease, vermin and destructive insects,” he says.


“Although our focus is on the environment, there are also financial benefits to any business that experiences shipping costs. Pallets and their disposal are becoming big, expensive issues.”


The Biofiba global alliance team expects to capture a substantial percentage of the export pallet market within five years, generating more than $2 billion per annum in export revenue.


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