Wool cells used for new material

New uses are being investigated for coarse wool. Photo: ODT
New uses are being investigated for coarse wool. Photo: ODT
Deconstruction of coarse wool fibre to create new materials has been described as a ‘‘major breakthrough’’.

Researchers at Lincoln Agritech Ltd have broken down coarse wool — which  comprises about 75% of New Zealand’s wool clip — into its cellular components, creating new materials that are not wool but contain wool attributes.

The work was part of a $21 million 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, was being undertaken via WRONZ wholly-owned subsidiary Wool Industry Research Ltd, led by Dr Garth Carnaby.

Lead researcher Dr Rob Kelly, of  Lincoln Agritech, was exploring potential uses for the new fibre with WRONZ member companies with expertise in cosmetics, filters and luxury clothing.

In a statement, WRONZ chairman Derrick Milton said the organisation was delighted its efforts to find new uses for coarse wool had made significant progress.

‘‘Successfully deconstructing coarse wool to create 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 New Zealand wool growers,’’ he said.

ASB’s latest Commodities Weekly report said prices for all wool types were expected to drift lower. The global economy was ‘‘slowing a touch’’, notably in China. Mid-micron prices were expected to remain at healthy levels, but coarse wool prices looked likely to ease towards recent lows.

Coarse wool prices remained low compared with historical averages. Despite robust global growth, 39 micron wool prices remained stuck 21% below post-2015 averages.

Mid-micron prices have lifted over 2018 as healthy global growth translated to higher demand for apparel. Prices for 29 micron wool have lifted 16% so far this year.

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