17 Jul 2020

Wool being developed to replace petroleum-based hygiene textiles

From Afternoons with Jesse Mulligan, 1:55 pm on 17 July 2020

A mother and daughter duo are behind innovative technology to turn wool into a textile which can replace petroleum-based materials used in hygiene products.

It could lead to their company, Woolchemy, accessing a non-woven textile market worth $47 billion dollar a year.

Co-founder and CEO of Woolchemy, Derelee Potroz-Smith told Jesse Mulligan they are the first to make wool super absorbent.

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Photo: RNZ/Susan Murray

“We’ve got a couple of different processes and we’ve got a patent pending on them, essentially what we can do is take any wool substrate whether it’s a wool blend or 100 percent wool and we can make it more moisture loving so it’s hydrophilic and super absorbent.”

Wool has absorbent properties she says, but on the inside of the fibre.

“Even though wool garments are good for absorbing sweat, it’s a completely different matter if it needs to absorb lots of liquid.”

They have developed a wet treatment process.

“Essentially what we do is put it into a bath and soak it, could be a fibre, could be a yarn, could be a fabric or even a garment and it’s a chemical molecular change it does to the wool fibre.

“It breaks bonds and reforms bonds and what comes out is still 100 percent wool, but because of the chemistry we’ve allowed it to be more hydrophilic.”

Latest tech more for disposable products such as nappies and pads

The idea came when she was discussing the price of wool with her mother.

“It all started around my kitchen table and my mum had come down to visit me she was a beef sheep farmer at the time.

“She came down to Wellington to visit me and we were commiserating with each other about the price of wool. It was just terrible prices they were getting for their strong wool.

“So, we started to write down what is the criteria for the perfect product that we could put strong wool into. It had to be a really simple product, had to be something that people wanted to buy even in a recession and it needed to use lots of wool in a short amount of time.”

It so happened she was changing a nappy as they chatted.

“And she said nappies! It was our 'ah ha' moment.

“It ticked so many boxes, we could be helping the wool industry, we could be helping the environment, we could help the whole hygiene sector which hasn’t had a lot of innovation.

“And we could also help all of the rural communities that rely on the wool sector to survive and thrive.”

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