Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Bid planned to protect Puratech

  Bay de Lautour: A “no-brainer” that Puratech wool technology should be kept in New Zealand. Wool industry leader Bay de Lautour might spearhead a bid to keep the advanced Puratech technology and machinery developed for the mid-micron sector in New Zealand.

“It’s a product with amazing attributes and it’s a no-brainer that we try to do something,’’ he said.

de Lautour already funds, and is chairman of the Primary Wool Co-operative group, but said it was unlikely to be involved, with its resources taken up elsewhere. “Ideally, we’d want a separate company, with Mid-Micron and outside investors.’’

The technology was developed with funding by Mid-Micron Inc and the former WRONZ (now Wool Research), but the machinery has been sold by the developer to Summit Yarns in Oamaru, and the wool grower group does not have the resources to buy it.

The technology’s spinning process produces a finer yarn than the base fibre fed into it, an example being 28 micron exiting with the feel of a 23 micron, making it more attractive for garments.

Summit’s Japanese owner Sumitomo now wants to sell the machinery in a move to exit the textile industry in NZ, and is understood to be in talks with a potential American buyer, and possibly NZ interests.

Summit director Ricky Hammond-Tooke said the company had no comment. Wool Research general manager, Ian Cuthbertson, believed Sumitomo might also be prepared to sign licensing agreements with potential users.

Mid Micron Inc believes it owns the Puratech intellectual property, but there are some uncertainties, chairman Eric Laurenson said. In any case, if the machinery is sold overseas, the Mid Micron people will lose access to them.

Cuthbertson said that the IP was sold to Summit along with the machinery. From an academic perspective, he said the technology has tremendous potential to be developed further, but it hasn’t succeeded commercially. A buyer would need to have the capacity for products and markets.

Although the machinery does need scaling up, it provides a faster rate of production than conventional yarn spinning and requires fewer fibres to achieve a wool rich, light weight yarn. “I’d be gutted if we lost it overseas,’’ he said.

Mid Micron Inc is kept going by just a handful of keen members, has few resources, and has been considering whether it should be wound up. There is no paid-up membership and most farmers growing mid micron wool show no interest in the group.

Laurenson acknowledges the group has “been in a state of flux’’ and its fate would be decided by the outcome of the Summit sale process.

He has been pinning his hopes on investment support from somewhere and welcomed de Lautour’s interest.

“Bay is in at the strong wool end, but the machines take all the micron ranges, and it’s great that someone in NZ is interested.’’

de Lautour said he was still getting figures together, but believed it could be a viable proposition. “We’d need to get a large retailer interested, and branding.’’

Mid Micron Inc has made some minor progress in other parts of its business. It has supplied about three or four tonnes of wool tops to Milton-based Bruce Woollen Mills for conventional spinning into yarn.

This is a very small start but Laurenson hoped the business would be ongoing and growing.

The tops are made in China from wool scoured in NZ, but Bruce Woollen is trying to source equipment to enable it to make the tops in Milton.

There wouldn’t be a huge cost difference for Mid Micron but top-making at Milton would ‘’guarantee that it is our wool’’.

Bruce Woollen hopes to have top-making in place in January, director Keith Cowan said. “We’ve made the decision to fund it if we can find the plant.’’

The yarn will be sent back to China for manufacturing into products for a NZ company.

Cowan said the mid micron wool made excellent yarn.

The contract has come at a good time for Bruce Woollen, with a slow-down in its core wool yarn business. Most of this product ends up in goods sold into the tourist market,  and the sector was subdued specially because of the fall  in numbers of Australians coming to the South Island, he said.

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