Roadside guide posts (2) and production samples (2), 'Husk-I-Bond', rice hulls / nylon / polymer resin, made by Biocon Ricegrowers' Cooperative Ltd, Griffith, New South Wales, Australia 2001
Husk-I-Bond is extremely strong, lightweight, and insect and rot resistant so it is a good alternative to timber. The high silica content in the rice hulls makes them extremely resistant to rotting and termite attack.The road posts are long-lasting and are safer than timber in a car accident because they break up more easily without becoming airborne missiles.
Husk-I-Bond is a good example of a product that resulted from collaboration between industry and academia to solve an industrial waste problem. In 2006 such collaboration is encouraged by federal government agencies that provide funding for scientific research.
The intellectual property gained is of great interest internationally because world-wide rice production generates more than 100 million tonnes of rice hull waste a year. The technology has great potential for use in countries that have sufficient water resources to grow rice.
These items were made at Biocon, the Ricegrowers' Cooperative research site in Griffith, NSW in 2001. They are made of rice hulls, recycled nylon carpet offcuts and thermoplastic resin. The Husk-I-Bond technology does not require large scale facilities, so users can start on a small scale and build their plants as resources allow. Thus the technology can be applied on a small scale near rice processing plants in multiple locations. Rice hulls are extremely light but take up a lot of volume, so it is not economical to transport them far.
The Biocon plant opened as a research and development site in the the early 1980s. Its aim was to find ways to use the rice hulls that are a waste product of the rice processing industry. After 2001, Biocon changed its name to HullTech.
The Husk-I-Bond material resulted from a research partnership between the Ricegrowers' Cooperative Ltd in NSW and RMIT University in Melbourne. RMIT University provided technical help to produce materials at the Biocon site in Griffith.
The project won the 1999 Australian Government Industry Research and Development Board's national award for outstanding achievement in collaborative research and development. By January 2001, 2500 roadside posts made from rice hulls had been installed on country roads. At that point it was deemed that flexible building panels for houses were likely be be the most commercially viable application for the technology. Another application for which the material was tested was as spacers for shipping steel around the world.
In 2001, Australian rice growers had 240,000 tonnes of rice hulls to dispose of. Half of that was used for animal bedding, stock feed base, potting mix and as a high temperature insulant in steel production. During the 2002 drought, rice production in Australia fell to one third of its normal volume and the SunRice mill at Echuca in northern Victoria closed permanently. Among other factors, the ongoing drought made production of Husk-I-Bond no longer viable in Griffith in NSW. The HullTech plant closed in February 2005.