15 March 2002 (Business Times)A LOCAL manufacturer of high quality rubber gloves for the world markethas chipped in RM500,000 to fund a biodegradable plastic research projectundertaken by a team of researchers at Universiti Malaya.
Under a two-year agreement signed recently with Sumirubber Industries(Kedah) Sdn Bhd, UM will provide the research manpower and facilities toconduct the basic research and ultimately its commercialisation.
The Sungai Petani-based Sumirubber, a subsidiary of Japanese tyre giantSumitomo Rubber Industries Ltd, has agreed to carry out a survey ofpatents and research the uses of the new materials, apart from providingfinancial assistance.
The university's three-member research team led by Associate Professor DrIrene Tan Kit Ping of the Institute of Biological Sciences has developed alaboratory process which produces bacterial biopolymers known aspolyhydroxyalkanoates or PHAs from palm oil, palm kernel oil and theirderivatives as a primary carbon source.
Tan is assisted by Prof Dr Gan Seng Neon (Department of Chemistry) andProf Dr K.B. Ramachandran (Department of Chemical Engineering).
The team has been working on the biopolymers for more than five years andhas already produced six Master's degree theses and several researchpapers in scientific journals and conference proceedings.
Unlike petroleum-based plastics, which contribute to pollution problems,these PHAs are environmentally friendly and biodegradable.
This means that after being disposed of, the natural micro-organisms inthe environment would consume them for energy and convert them into carbondioxide and water.
The PHAs are also biocompatible and could be developed into variousbiomedical applications. Sumitomo managing director Koichi Iwata, whodescribed PHA as "a candidate for future material", said the technologycould be exported to Japan and the rest of the world to replacepetroleumbased plastics, if found to be viable.
"We are a late comer in this technology as many rubber-based companies inJapan have invested or conducted extensive research in PHA.
"But PHA still enjoys the potential of a growing market in view of greaterawareness on the need to be environment-friendly.
"We view our co-operation with UM in the area of research as a lowriskinvestment if compared to the benefits mankind will be getting," he saidafter witnessing the agreement signing ceremony with UM in Kuala Lumpur.
Sumirubber was represented by its managing director Genzo Furukawa, whilethe signatory for UM was its vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Anuar Zaini MdZain.
Anuar Zaini expressed confidence that the project would contribute to theadvancement of science and technology in Malaysia as well as environmentprotection worldwide.