Chinese agribusiness invests in South Australian biotech centre

By / 22nd of March, 2016

GLOBAL Chinese agribusiness Shandong Tianjiu Industrial Group has entered into a three-year $1 million joint research agreement with South Australian institution Flinders University to expand a world-class microalgae and related advanced marine bioproduct development centre.

The research collaboration will focus on identifying new products and developing novel, energy-efficient advanced manufacturing technologies to increase applications, yields and purity of high-value marine bioproducts for functional foods in the premium export market. 

Shandong Tianjiu Industrial Group manages more than 7000 hectares of intensive commercial farming, has a workforce of more than 800, and annual global sales of more than $A220 million. Its biotech subsidiary produces more than 500 tonnes of plant product extracts a year, including yam flour, malt extract and a popular certified non-dairy creamer.

Tianjiu is also one of the largest manufacturers of plant-derived functional peptides from food crops such as soybean, corn and peas.  These plant extracts have a wide range of applications in the health food and nutritional supplement industries, beverage and baking sectors, as well as the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2014, Flinders University partnered with Chinese company Gather Great Ocean Group (GGOG) to establish an Advanced Macroalgae Biotechnology Joint Laboratory at Flinders University in Adelaide and in Qingdao, China.

Professor Wei Zhang, director of the Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development at Flinders, said the Shandong Tianjiu group-Flinders University joint investment was the first phase of investment and could expand in future.

“South Australia’s clean marine environment is very highly regarded in Asia,” Prof Zhang said.

“We are delighted to partner with this large agricultural, food and biotech processing company which is investing heavily in innovation and has already invested millions in R&D, developing food supplements or functional bioproducts and improved pharmaceuticals from plant extracts, fermentation and biotech polypeptide technology.

“Developing high-value marine biotech for advanced food manufacturing will add to Australia’s growing marine ‘blue economy’ which is forecast to grow to more than $100 billion by 2025.

South Australia is considered a world leader in clean green premium seafood and has large stocks of southern Bluefin tuna, abalone, oysters and southern rock lobster.

Microscopic marine algae or phytoplankton is a sustainable and inexpensive source of single-celled photosynthetic organisms closely related to plants that contain compounds with benefits for human health and nutrition, animal diets and can even be used for next-generation biofuels.

Proteins and peptides from microalgae, and other marine organisms, can be used as functional foods or supplements in a more healthy diet and to prevent or treat some medical conditions.

South Australian Investment and Trade Minister Martin Hamilton-Smith said the agreement represent an exciting opportunity to strengthen connections between Shandong and South Australia in research, development and commercialising results.

“The visit may also identify opportunities to export commodities, such as dairy and barley, and investment in agriculture businesses in Australia and advanced manufacturing of high-value products,” Mr Hamilton-Smith said.

“This collaboration reflects the State Government’s commitment to developing greater commercial and collaborative partnerships with South Australia’s biggest trading partner, China. “

 South Australia’s capital Adelaide has three-long standing public universities, Flinders UniversityUniversity of South Australia, and the University of Adelaide, each of which are consistently rated highly in the international higher education rankings.

Key contacts

Wei Zhang Professor in Bioprocessing Founding Director, Flinders Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development Flinders University
61 8 7221 8557 wei.zhang@flinders.edu.au