The next project for a research winery based in Marlborough is to explore how to turn wine waste into ethanol for use in hand sanitisers.

Sales of hand sanitisers have gone through the roof since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, with some alcohol producers having pivoted their distilleries towards the creation of sanitiser to meet rising demand.

The Ministry of Business and Innovation (MBIE) has awarded $84,700 in funding to Bragato Research Institute (BRI) for a pilot study exploring turning grape marc into hand sanitiser.

Grape marc is the stems and seeds left over after pressing, which in Marlborough can total as much as 46,000 tonnes of waste per year. The study would look at turning winery waste into ethanol.

Any sanitiser made in the initial eight-month study would be bottled and donated to Marlborough health workers and first responders.

“Using winery waste to produce ethanol for hand sanitiser is untested in the New Zealand context with our varietals. We haven’t had the capability to conduct a study like this in New Zealand until now," said Bragato Research Institute chief executive MJ Loza.

“Transforming the wine industry’s waste into a value stream is a research priority. Every time we study grape marc, we learn a little more about its potential for a new commercial product."

In the long term, the project would explore the business opportunity for the industry to turn waste into sanitiser, which would include more information on costs, infrastructure needed and technical findings specific to grape marc produced in New Zealand.

“We know that grape marc is rich in valuable compounds. The challenges lie in finding a new economy for grape marc without creating a bigger environmental footprint, as well as finding a financially viable market for a new product,” Loza said.

Bragato officially opened their research winery in February, based at the Blenheim campus of Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology. The new facility will trial winemaking equipment, technologies and processes as well as sustainable winery operations.

The project will be led by winery research manager Dr Tanya Rutan and research programme manager Dr Matias Kinzurik.

Funding for the project was secured through MBIE's COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund, which was created to support research and projects in COVID responses, and provide support to develop and deploy products, processes and services.

The new research facility will also provide commercial research winemaking services to suppliers and the industry.