The Business Herald’s markets and banking reporter.

"Magic" to revolutionise dairy industry

Developer of membrane aimed at revolutionising industries such as dairy and mining recalls setback of fire

Mark Harston, Craig Reilly, Darryl Briggs, Brett Pascoe from Hydroxsys, that has developed a special membrane that separates materials. Photo / Christine Cornege
Mark Harston, Craig Reilly, Darryl Briggs, Brett Pascoe from Hydroxsys, that has developed a special membrane that separates materials. Photo / Christine Cornege

Entrepreneurs face many challenges along the road to success, but being accused of running a methamphetamine lab usually isn't one of them.

Engineer Daryl Briggs has created a membrane that, he says, has the potential to revolutionise a range of industries, including dairy processing and mining.

He was "curing" the material in South Auckland last year when the volatile chemicals used in the process caught fire.

Up the shed went, and two fire trucks kitted out with hazardous materials equipment quickly arrived at the property.

Briggs was forced to prove he wasn't operating a clandestine P lab and it was only when he produced an article written in Unlimited magazine about the membrane that the fire chief became convinced.

"It was a very uncomfortable time," he said.

Not helping matters was the fact that the shed belonged to his brother-in-law.

But 10 months on Briggs is gaining some real traction in the development of the membrane, which can be used in industrial processes to extract liquids and remove contaminants.

A start-up, Hydroxsys, was established last year to commercialise the material, which uses a process called forward osmosis.

The company is backed by Global From Day One, a seed fund operated by Wellington's Sparkbox Ventures and Auckland business incubator The Icehouse.

Global From Day One is supported by the Government-backed New Zealand Venture Investment Fund.

Hydroxsys recently won a A$100,000 ($117,400) Australian green innovation award that should come in handy as the firm pushes towards making its technology a commercial reality.

Briggs said the membrane's "magic" was that it could reduce milk, which is about 85 per cent water, to 30 per cent of its original volume.

The technology could be used to concentrate milk "at or near farm" before it is transported to dairy processing facilities.

"That means if you've got three [milk] trucks on the road, you only end up with one - that's a huge saving," Briggs said. "The environmental credentials of the process are amazing. In the New Zealand dairy industry, if you extrapolate it out to the market, you've got 20 kilotonnes of carbon dioxide that you wouldn't exhaust [from using fewer trucks]."

Chief executive Mark Hartstone said the firm wanted to have a pilot plant in the Waikato up-and-running by March next year.

"From that sales will begin to stream once the technology is validated in the field," he said.

The membrane has the potential to be used in many areas of mining, including gold and bauxite.

Sparkbox Ventures chairman Andrew Duff said the mining sector had come under pressure from falling mineral and resource prices.

"They are looking to make their processes more efficient," Duff said. "This technology has the potential to generate considerable cost savings while making the [mining] sector considerably less damaging to the environment."

- NZ Herald

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