Rotorua-based the Biopolymer Network (BPN) is finalising its first ZealaFoam commercial application with a US-based global company, says chief executive Sarah Heine.

Plant-based ZealaFoam, almost a decade in development, is being positioned by BPN as an eco-friendly replacement for polystyrene, which Ms Heine said was a US$38 billion ($59 billion) global market.

"We're very excited and optimistic about ZealaFoam's potential," said Ms Heine.

ZealaFoam is made from polylactic acid beads derived from corn starch and uses a patented CO2 foaming technology that allows it to be moulded into insulation, packaging and specialty components.


Ms Heine said the focus had been on proving the technology worked in large-scale volumes in partnership with Auckland plastics maker Barnes Plastics and a US sports equipment company.

The US company plans to use the foam as the liner in a new range of cycle helmets.

BPN, jointly owned by Crown research institutes Scion, Plant and Food, and AgResearch, won the Commercialisation Collaboration Award at last year's KiwiNet Awards for its work in collaborative research across a range of technologies.

The company has developed a portfolio of intellectual property in products based on materials from plants, drawing on capability across the three research institutes. BPN has focused on four key areas: bio-based foams and resins; aqueous extracted proteins and starches; tannin extracts and derivatives; and liquid CO2 processing.

"We have got technologies coming through in some quite different areas," said Ms Heine.

"However, we expect the ZealaFoam collaboration to be the first commercial application."