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2023 Scott Medal: Extracting high-value bioactives for health and wellness products

Dr Owen Catchpole FRSNZ, of Callaghan Innovation, has been awarded the Scott Medal by Royal Society Te Apārangi for being a world leader in the development of processes to extract high-value bioactive chemicals from biological materials using ‘supercritical’ solvents.

Owen Catchpole is a global expert in the use of chemical engineering to process natural materials from the apiary, horticulture, marine, and dairy industries.

Supercritical fluid extraction commonly uses carbon dioxide at high pressure to extract high-value bioactive compounds from natural materials. Any residual carbon dioxide evaporates entirely so there is no contamination in the finished products, unlike with traditional petrochemical solvents. This makes it ideal for extracting and purifying bioactive compounds for foods, and for health and wellness products. New Zealand businesses are now selling these purified natural products to international markets for tens of millions $NZ per year. 

Owen is recognised for pioneering supercritical CO2 extraction in New Zealand “from scratch,” and he has extended this method to using other solvents such as dimethyl ether (DME). He has also worked on related processes for chemical purification and separation. 

His novel work with DME extraction has led to several patents, and DME has been accepted as a food-grade solvent by international regulatory authorities. 

Owen designed and commissioned the first industrial-scale supercritical extraction plant ‘SCENZA’ in Aotearoa New Zealand and contributed to the transportable pilot plant ‘SuperEx’ which was used to produce Greenshell mussel oil before Sanford built their own processing facility.

With funding from the Ministry of Business, Employment, and Innovation, Owen led the establishment of the Bioresource Processing Alliance. The Alliance is a collaboration between Callaghan Innovation and three Crown Research Institutes which aims to bring a ‘best team, best equipment’ approach to research on secondary waste streams in New Zealand’s biological industries. Owen has led projects to manage by-products from processing of avocados, dairy, kiwifruit, hemp, mussels, squash, apples, and oranges.

Owen is based in Auckland, where he established Callaghan Innovation’s Food Processing Technology Team. He was seconded to Manuka Health to develop high-value products from propolis and manuka honey, including free-flowing propolis powder and freeze-dried manuka honey powders.

One of Owen’s referees said that “his contribution to the biotechnologies sector in Aotearoa has been considerable.

“It is, in my opinion, extremely rare to encounter someone with such a deep and extensive knowledge of science and engineering who is also so highly engaged with industry.”

Owen has been recognised for his outstanding contribution to the biotechnology sector in Aotearoa New Zealand through being recently elected as a Fellow of Royal Society Te Apārangi (2022), as a Fellow of Engineering New Zealand (2010), and awarded the Royal Society Te Apārangi's New Zealand Science and Technology Silver Medal (2002). 

Owen says he is “delighted” to be awarded the 2023 Scott Medal.

“This medal is the culmination of decades of research and development teamwork into supercritical extraction technologies and the processing of natural materials starting at the Industrial Processing Division of the DSIR in 1986 and then through Industrial Research Limited and now Callaghan Innovation. The award is recognition for the investment and support by the DSIR, IRL, Callaghan Innovation and funding from the Government via the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology and latterly MBIE; and support from the many companies who have benefitted in some way from the R&D. 

“It is also recognition for all the people I have worked with who have contributed along the way and, in particular, John Grey, Bruce Hamilton, Stephen Tallon, Teresa Moreno and current team members Jolin Morel and Campbell Ellison, the inspirational leaders and mentors I have worked with including Clive Davies, Andrew Kay and Garth Carnaby, and the international community of researchers in the field of supercritical extraction.”


Scott Medal:
For outstanding contributions towards the advancement of engineering sciences and technologies. 

To Owen Catchpole for being a world leader in the development of ‘supercritical’ solvent-based processes to extract high- value bioactive chemicals from biological materials.