New Zealand strong wool could provide ground-breaking solutions for mass-produced consumer products that have a positive impact on the environment, rural communities and individual wellbeing, Woolchemy founding director Derelee Potroz-Smith says.
Fabric, clothes, carpets, bedding and upholstery come first to mind when thinking about fibre, but one of the newest uses is in hygiene, starting with nappies.
With NZ using a million disposable nappies a day and the world using 300,000 a minute, putting strong wool into nappies would solve NZ’s strong-wool problems, Potroz-Smith told the E Tipu IFAMA 2023 World Conference in Christchurch last week.
She said Woolchemy’s focus is on technical materials made from wool that care for people and the planet.
“There is 100,000t of wool here in NZ underutilised.
“I grew up on a farm producing all this wool with nowhere to go and the pain of no value. Then I had babies, I saw new opportunities.”
NeweZorb – a re-usable wool textile with increased natural absorbency – was born.
“Wool fibre in its unprocessed state can hold 30% of its own weight in moisture but through our patented organic chemistry, Woolchemy has developed a high performance textile that absorbs up to 1000% of its original weight while still feeling dry and comfortable and without the need for additives of synthetic chemical,” Potroz-Smith said.
“We have massive global ambitions in developing high performance hygiene materials using the power of wool.
“I want to use up all the volume of strong wool in NZ. We are down to five sheep per person, we were once 12. This is a great opportunity to increase sheep numbers,” Potroz-Smith said.
Hemp and wool also play a part in innovating for a greener tomorrow, and NZ Natural Fibres (NZNF) aims to transform natural fibres to enable Earth-positive choices.
Combining the properties of wool and hemp fibres across the essentials of life is the focus, chief executive Guy Wills said in his message to E-Tipu IFAMA 2023.
“Where we live, work, play and wear, we are combining the properties of wool and hemp to combine the properties of two superior fibres.”
Products are made from renewable, NZ-grown hemp and wool, as well as blends of the two fibres, using proprietary technology to prototype, produce and market a wide range of consumer and industrial options.
NZNF was founded in 2018 by two local businesses that shared the same vision for NZ-grown fibres, which have many synergies in terms of sustainable provenance, ethics and environmental credentials.
Five years on the company continues to build its farmer and grower base while ramping up research and development activity to meet growing demand from domestic and offshore markets.
“We are very positive about the global future of NZ wool and hemp products,” Wills said.
There is tremendous potential to increase awareness of the sustainability, versatility and quality of wool and hemp across a variety of value-add applications, he said.
“We have taken the total ecosystem, approved agronomy, design and production through to market.
“We need to work together globally on the technology curve. The fibre has tremendous ability to transform economies.”
Most of the hemp is currently grown in Canterbury, but plans are afoot to expand growing across the North Island.
“Hemp has been taken from niche to mainstream industry on price, performance and functionality.
“We need to move the dial. The automotive industry, the building industry, want more. We need to supply, we need to scale up volume,” Wills said.
Kiwi Fibre co-founders Ben Scales and William Murrell are using natural fibres to design solutions that help global industries make a change while having positive environmental, economic and social benefits.
The pair discovered the natural fibre composites industry in their undergraduate studies at university.
“We’ve always been fascinated by doing things better, improving things and solving problems.
“We discovered the natural fibre composites industry in our undergraduate studies, and realised it was starting to emerge in the likes of Formula 1 and Aerospace – key areas of interest for us both,” Scales said.
“Around the same time, we learnt about the rich history of the NZ flax [harakeke] industry.
“We put these ideas together and now we’re revitalising one of Aotearoa’s oldest industries, with a modern twist for an emerging market.”
Kiwi Fibre developed a synthetic composite material akin to fibreglass, but plant based, solving technical and environmental problems faced by every global industry.
Companies in industries such as manufacturing, construction and transport are not satisfied with the performance and sustainability of existing synthetic composite materials, Scales said.
“Our material has unique properties, which solves problems faced by existing synthetic materials, thereby improving companies’ products.”
“The life cycle analysis shows an 85% reduction in emissions so every farm in the country needs harakeke, growing on it as well as more sheep.
“It’s a watch this space,” Scales said.