Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand Inc (WRONZ) recently announced that its world-class research initiative with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) to explore new uses for New Zealand’s strong wool has led to the development of unique wool particles, powders and pigments with global export potential for applications as diverse as cosmetics, printing, luxury goods and personal care.
WRONZ unveiled the innovative wool products at an event to celebrate the achievements from its New Uses for Strong Wool programme, supported by research, industry and funding partners. WRONZ also announced the launch of commercial development company Wool Source to develop the new products and assess market demand for the strong wool innovation. WRONZ further announced the completion of its pilot production facility to manufacture its first deconstructed wool ingredients from 100 per cent biodegradable, renewable and sustainable New Zealand strong wool.
The research leading to this event has been led by the New Materials team at Lincoln Agritech, and has led to a breakthrough in high-value products suitable for national and international manufacturers. This should eventually lead to greater returns for struggling NZ coarse wool farmers.
WRONZ Chairman Andy Fox says, “We’re delighted to announce these significant research and commercial milestones as we work to add value to the post-harvest strong wool industry alongside our collaborators and stakeholders. By funding fundamental and enabling science that creates new uses and products from our traditional wool clip, we aim to create better outcomes for farmers with increased demand and pricing at the farm gate and create sustainable value across the wool sector.”
The launch event also provided the opportunity to announce investment from the Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) to fund further product lines and commercial development as part of the wider New Uses for Strong Wool programme. MPI is contributing $1.95 million via its Sustainable Food and Fibre Futures (SFF Futures) fund, alongside $2.92 million from WRONZ.
The three-year programme aims to prove the commercial viability of the new deconstructed wool particle products. The goal is to develop more sustainable product ingredient alternatives for global manufacturers and consumers – while revitalising New Zealand’s strong wool sector, creating new value for our economy and communities.
The Strong Wool Action Group (SWAG) announced it was jointly funding Wool Source’s market engagement alongside WRONZ.
SWAG chief executive Andy Caughey says, “We’re providing support for Wool Source to undertake a deep dive project into particles, powders and pigments markets to assess the scale and viability of the commercial opportunity. New Zealand’s wool production, 90% of which is strong wool, is at a low point, with declining sheep numbers. With many farmers selling wool at a net cost this season, the industry is desperately seeking innovation to boost strong wool demand and prices.”
Wool Industry Research Limited (WIRL), a wholly-owned subsidiary company of WRONZ, is five years into its seven-year research contract for the New Uses for Strong Wool R&D programme. MBIE invested $8.4 million of the $21 million seven-year project in partnership with WRONZ. The research programme has focused on deconstructing wool to a cellular and particle level and then reconstructing it for various product uses.
WIRL chairman Garth Carnaby says, “I’m incredibly proud of the world-class research team we’ve assembled and our significant wool research capability. Key research partners Lincoln Agritech, AgResearch and Lincoln University have helped us deliver outstanding research breakthroughs. We’re excited to see this research progress to the commercial development and market engagement phase – with the potential to stimulate new market demand for the New Zealand wool industry.”
Pilot production plant
WRONZ has just completed its pilot plant facility at Lincoln University, which the WRONZ board backed and funded from its own capital. Wool Source will operate the pilot production plant to run production trials, develop market samples, and engage with parties interested in new product development.
Wool Source chief executive Tom Hooper says, “Wool Source is reimagining the future of New Zealand wool. Our new pigment, particle and powder products - from all-natural, sustainable, strong wool particles - provide the base ingredient for a new generation of high-performance materials, free from chemicals, metals, and toxins. We’re focusing on proving the commercial viability of our products and establishing demand, predominantly with international markets. To do this, we need to demonstrate we can produce at scale, with a unit production cost and price point that enables margins that create long term value-added opportunities for the New Zealand wool sector.”
Wool Source is looking for local partners, especially in personal care, cosmetics, pigments, and printing.
Hooper says, “Wool fleece is the perfect sustainable, biodegradable, cruelty-free and traceable natural product – with intrinsic positive characteristics that enable use against the skin. From skincare to luxury fibres, the opportunities for new products are endless. Ultimately, we’d like to see the future development of a large-scale manufacturing operation in New Zealand solely using New Zealand strong wool.”
Fox adds, “Today is a significant step forward towards our vision for new uses for strong wool that create new market demand and create better outcomes for farmers and the wool sector.”Photo: Tom Hooper, CEO of Wool Source with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor.