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UH Signs Technology License Agreement with I-PHA BioPolymers Ltd. of Hong Kong

Agreement gives company exclusive right to utilize technology developed at UH in Hong Kong, Macau, and the People's Republic of China

University of Hawaiʻi
Jonathan Roberts, (808) 539-3828
Licensing Associate
Kristen Cabral, (808) 956-5039
Public Information Officer
Posted: Mar 3, 2003

The University of Hawaiʻi‘s Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development (OTTED) recently signed a technology license agreement with I-PHA BioPolymers Ltd. of Hong Kong for a biopolymer production technology developed by Dr. Jian Yu of UH Mānoa‘s School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology‘s Department of Ocean and Resources Engineering. The technology, which is patented by UH, uses fermentation as its technical platform to convert organic waste materials into environmentally friendly bioplastics and organic fertilizers.

The license agreement gives I-PHA BioPolymers, a Hong Kong-based company engaged in environmental biotechnology development, the exclusive right to utilize the technology in the production of bioplastics and organic fertilizers in Hong Kong, Macau, and the People‘s Republic of China. Under the terms of the agreement, the company will provide UH with an upfront licensing fee and will pay running royalties on sales of biopolymers produced using the process. It also has the right to sublicense its rights to other firms and will reimburse UH for the cost of patent prosecution in its licensed and optioned territories.

"I am grateful for I-PHA Biopolymer‘s willingness to make an investment in a technology that can truly make a difference in our lives," said Richard Cox, Director of OTTED. "By helping commercialize this technology, I-PHA BioPolymers will be helping to tackle one of those thorny problems that confront virtually every country on earth solid waste management and overflowing landfills and that will be a benefit to us all, truly a benefit to society."

I-PHA BioPolymers plans to commission a research center in Yuen Long, Hong Kong, to develop and build a pilot plant for the production of bioplastics and organic fertilizers using the licensed novel green technology. Dr. Jian Yu of SOEST at UH will be the chief scientist for the pilot plant design and construction.

"We are honored to have Dr. Yu as our technical consultant, whom we believe will ensure a smooth transfer of technical know-how and enhance our technology," said Andy Lo, managing director of I-PHA BioPolymers. "With the I-PHA technology, we have come up with a cost-effective approach to handle biodegradable organic waste materials by converting it into bioplastics and organic fertilizers without secondary pollution."

Bioplastic is a type of thermoplastic material made by microbial organisms from natural renewable resources, and is completely biodegradable in the environment, and non-toxic to the ecosystem. The bioplastics produced by the I-PHA technology will have a unique market niche with their environmentally friendly properties and cost advantage.

"People discard organic waste materials during food production and consumption. We collect and turn organic waste into slurry, and use natural microbes to break it into simple fermentative compounds such as acetic, propionic and butric acids," said Dr. Yu, as he explained how organic waste materials are turned into bioplastics and organic fertilizers. "From these fermentative acids, some special microbial strains, isolated from soil, produce bioplastics under a controlled environment. The waste residuals that cannot be decomposed by the natural microbes are further stabilized as excellent soil conditioner and organic fertilizers."

Biodegradable plastic and elastic polymers are mostly used in disposable products, including food packaging, such as foam peanuts, trash bags, wrapping films, and laminated paper; hygiene products, such as diaper back sheets, cotton swab sticks, and tampon tubes; consumer goods, such as cutlery, plates, lunch boxes, toys, and razor handles; medical-related products such as syringes and sutures; and in agriculture applications, including mulch film and planters.

The University of Hawaii‘s Office of Technology Transfer and Economic Development was organized for the purpose of helping identify, protect, and commercialize the university‘s valuable new discoveries and inventions for the benefit of society and to support economic growth and diversification. In pursuing this mandate, OTTED emphasizes the university‘s desire to use these discoveries for the improvement of society. UH is, first and foremost, a place for fostering ideas and searching for answers to many of the most fundamental societal problems. However, over the past decade, there has been a growing recognition that many academic discoveries, ideas, and inventions also hold the promise of commercial success.

American universities have become hotbeds for the commercialization of promising new technologies in areas as diverse as human and veterinary medicine, the environment, and materials and computer sciences. OTTED can point to Dr. Yu‘s biopolymer technology and several others that are making an impact on the human condition: A Basaltic Termite Barrier that prevents the Formosan termite from attacking and damaging homes and other buildings.

New varieties of taro and papaya that are stronger, faster growing, and more resistant to disease; UH‘s SunUp and Rainbow papaya varieties literally saved the Hawaiʻi papaya industry a few years ago from the papaya ringspot virus.

A new method to make shrimp more resistant to the multitude of viruses that plague commercial aquaculture.

These technologies, and many others like them, help prove that basic science can also have practical value. Through OTTED, UH is seeking to identify new opportunities to commercialize the results of its research. "If we continue to be successful in this effort," says Cox, "the people of Hawaiʻi will continue to realize the benefits of their investment in higher education."

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