Years of research to find new uses for coarse wool has resulted in the successful deconstruction of wool fibre to create completely new materials.
Researchers at Lincoln Agritech Ltd have successfully broken down coarse wool, which comprises around three quarters of the New Zealand wool clip, into its cellular components, creating new materials that are not wool, but contain wool attributes.
The new materials comprise tiny particles, much smaller than coarse wool and typically in the 5-10 micron range. These new, smaller ingredients massively open up potential new uses for coarse wool in a wide range of new industries and value chains.
Currently coarse wool has limited uses and is mainly employed to create wool carpets, a market that is in significant decline due to the growing popularity of synthetic alternatives. This has resulted in lower prices for coarse wool (currently around $3.35 a kilo) and a reduction in sheep farming.
The work is part of a $21m, seven-year research programme into new uses for coarse wool co-funded by the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (WRONZ) and the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment. The work, which began in 2016, is being undertaken via a WRONZ wholly-owned subsidiary, Wool Industry Research Ltd, led by Dr Garth Carnaby.
Dr Carnaby introduced the new materials to wool industry members at the WRONZ AGM on 25th October 2018. WRONZ members cover all aspects of the industry from wool production, wool exporting to scouring and processing into products. At the meeting, lead researcher Dr Rob Kelly from Lincoln Agritech described some of the properties of the new materials.
WRONZ has patented a number deconstruction methods.
Dr Kelly is exploring potential uses for the new fibre with WRONZ member companies with expertise in cosmetics, filters and luxury clothing.
WRONZ Chairman Mr Derrick Milton said: “We’re delighted that our efforts to find new uses for coarse wool, on behalf of our members, has made significant progress. Successfully deconstructing coarse wool to create a new materials is a major breakthrough that has the potential to add huge value to the wool industry. Although scale up and commercialisation is still some way off, WRONZ will work with its membership to maximise value for NZ wool growers and for New Zealand as a whole.”