Dr Simon Hinkley
Science Team Leader, Ferrier Research Institute
A research programme with Resene Paints led Dr Simon Hinkley into the world of industrial polymer formulation and spawned a desire to help other New Zealand companies create greener, higher value products.
Formulated polymers are ubiquitous in industrial products such as sheep drench, lipstick, adhesives and paint, but most are made from petrochemicals.
“Our goal is the systematic replacement of these molecules with substances generated from renewable sources. They will have a lower environmental impact overall as well as benefits such as better biodegradability or other functionality.”
“There are many fantastic polymers and formulations on the market, which are extremely cheap and have excellent properties. We’re responding to a demand from industry for novel and renewable ingredients made from plants or other low environmental-cost sources that fully or partially replace these materials. It’s a massive challenge.”
Simon and the team have recently invented two new cellulose-based renewable polymers based on a levulinc acid repeating unit. Although the polymers are still too expensive to act as acrylic replacements on a large scale, they are proving to be of interest in higher value applications.
“We are working with New Zealand companies that see the potential in these new polymers as smart delivery systems or novel materials. The fact that their properties can be tuned to suit a particular purpose is a real plus.”
Simon is cognisant of the constraints that industry has to work within, and offers his knowledge of chemistry and manufacturing processes to solve problems as and when required.
“As soon as you step away what from New Zealand traditionally does, you discover that there’s a huge gap in technical capability. We might have the largest spray drier in the world, but it’s only for milk. There was nowhere here for a small company to spray dry their paint pigment formulations.”
“We helped them with the development of processes and pilot-plant testing off-shore and now they have a world-class bit of kit set up in the building next door that’s doing a fabulous job for them! Plus, they hired our student as a key staff member for their development programme.”
Simon has a PhD in organic chemistry from the University of Otago, which he followed by a postdoc at the University of Maryland at College Park. He then spent seven years in biotech at IRL-BioPharm before joining the Ferrier team.
“We were using fermentation technology to make high-value pharmaceuticals. I enjoyed every role from production manager to cleaner, but it was a trial by fire in contract manufacturing.”
View Simon's publications on Google Scholar.