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Lincoln Agritech, which is owned by Lincoln University, has received $290,000 for the work.
The 18-month research programme will see it use patented technology from the Wool Research Organisation to change the physical format of the fibre and improve its absorption and virus-neutralising properties, making the masks both highly effective and environmentally sustainable.
The resulting products will reduce dependence on overseas producers, particularly during high-demand pandemic events, as well as decreasing the environmental impact of PPE use.
Funding for the programme comes from the $13.57 million Covid Innovation Acceleration fund, announced by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment in March.
“This research will use newly-developed technology that completely changes the physical form of the wool fibre, creating the light, paper-like membranes that look and feel much more like the PPE masks we typically see mass produced.”
Kelly said the new format also enhanced the absorbency and binding properties of wool, making the fibre even more suitable for PPE use.
“Achieving this with an abundant, sustainable material seemed an appropriate way for New Zealand to respond now and prepare itself for the future.”
Lincoln Agritech will work closely with WRONZ and local manufacturers, including Christchurch-based FibreTech.