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[sharechat] Genesis

From: "mvanv" <>
Date: Sun, 25 May 2003 14:04:31 +1200

Doctor prescribes grow-your-own power


Dr Jim Watson has a startling new vision for New Zealand's economic future. He wants us to grow our own energy.

The chief executive of New Zealand's largest biotechnology company - Genesis Research & Development - has big plans to take his science beyond medicine and food.

He is proposing to engineer plants that can be used to create alternative fuels and biodegradable plastics.

This is not just academic theory. The seeds of his vision were sown last month when Genesis announced its strategic plan to split in two.

If the board approves, the plant science division - about 50 per cent of the company - will be spun off this year as a separate entity titled, for the moment, the Plant Company.

Genesis will continue as a listed company but will focus solely on medical products such as its breakthrough psoriasis drug, PVAC.

The Plant Company will be unlisted but will aim to float in several years.

Genesis will keep a stake in the Plant Company that will eventually be returned directly to shareholders.

The Plant Company will continue to generate revenue from licensing its extensive databases of plant DNA. It would also develop software tools to help companies to commercialise DNA information.

That will form half of the company's core business, Watson says - but it has to go further than that.

"We have to create revolutionary new products."

The development of plants for use in energy generation and biodegradable plastics will be the other half of its core business.

Watson's logic for the move comes from looking at New Zealand's competitive advantage in the past 100 years and applying it to the next.

"Last century was about food production," he says."New Zealand did well because our climate and soils favoured growing biomass.

"We became very good at converting that biomass into commodity products."

It's no secret that the value of the those commodities is dropping.

"This is the century of energy," Watson says. "Finding new ways to generate energy is going to become a whole new primary industry."

The use of biotechnology to enhance food production is still going to be big business but it faces problems, he says.

It lacks public acceptance and even if that changes, the efficiency gains are incremental and limited.

Plant matter is already being used to produce the fuel substitute ethanol and to make plastic-type substances.

There are local examples. Forest Research is using wood chip to make biodegradable plant pots that look and feel like plastic.

And the United States produces 7.5 billion litres of ethanol fuel a year by fermenting maize. Volumes have been growing steadily since the oil crisis in the 1970s when the first experiments began.

All cars in the US are built to run on a fuel mix that contains 10 per cent ethanol and 90 per cent petrol.

Watson says ethanol can also be converted directly into a petrol substitute or used in hydrogen fuel cells.

Using plant matter to create energy is environmentally smarter, says Watson.

A plant that is used to generate fuel consumes carbon while it grows to balance the carbon it releases as a fuel. It is also renewable, unlike fossil fuels.

The big problem is cost: it is still cheaper to use fossil fuels than to process plant matter, Watson says.

He wants to apply New Zealand science to solving that problem.

The most useful polymer in plant matter is cellulose fibre. The other polymer in plant matter is lignin, which is not so useful. "The problem is extracting the lignin."

The Plant Company will develop plants proven to grow well in New Zealand, he says. "We're sitting on an exciting new business





Sounds like Genesis has well and truly lost the plot.




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