It looks and feels the same as polystyrene, but it could revolutionise the way products are shipped around the world.

The product, called ZealaFoam, is the result of a collaboration between Rotorua-based company Biopolymer Network and Crown research organisations Scion, AgResearch and Plant and Food Research.

After almost a decade of work Rotorua-based Biopolymer Network chief executive Sarah Heine said the product was just about ready for commercial production.

Ms Heine said all plastics in New Zealand were made from imported polymers made with petrochemicals that came in the form of small beads which were then heated and moulded locally into whatever shape they were being used for.


But, the bio-based plastic used in ZealaFoam is derived from corn starch. The key to the product is the introduction of CO2 as a "blowing agent" which expands the small beads so they can be moulded into different shapes.

"As far as we are aware we are leading the charge for this globally," Ms Heine said.

"The key scientists for the product are all Rotorua-based, which is really cool.

"One of the main benefits is the fact ZealaFoam can be produced without having to change the machinery used to produce polystyrene.

"It is also completely bio-degradable and is non-toxic, so could also be burnt.

"Polystyrene can't be burnt or composted."

She said the next step for the new technology was introducing more biomass into the production process using ground bark.

"We can substitute the polymer with a low-value resource like bark, which is a problem in any saw mill.


"But, until we can make it at a commercial scale, we can't sell it."

Ms Heine said she was in negotiation with a company in Auckland and hopefully will start producing the product in its factory in the next few weeks.

"We do have interest from a United States company to make our first product for them.

"We would love to see New Zealand being the first country exporting with this product.

"It's great for fish, some fruit and flowers, and basically anything polystyrene packaging is being used for."

The product also won the 2013 New Zealand Innovators Award for excellence in research.

She said ZealaFoam was comparable with polystyrene in strength and insulation characteristics, but was not able to stand up to the same temperatures.