An Auckland firm making air filters with wool from New Zealand-bred fine wool sheep says it is set to take on the world.
Auckland based Lanaco was formed nearly a decade ago to help lift the value of New Zealand wool.
It has been specifically breeding a fine wool sheep called Astino™ (Merino, Cheviot, Finnish Landrace) in Central Otago to make products that protect people's respiratory health.
Company founder Nick Davenport says post Covid-19 even more emphasis is being placed on the functionality of face masks, air purifying filtration systems and medical devices for future generations.
The New Zealand engineered filters have a lot of science backing them, but basically Nick says natural wool fibre is an ideal substitute for synthetic products because it naturally repels bacteria while naturally absorbing toxins.
He says Lanaco's plan is global dominance, but surprisingly it's been hard breaking into the face mask market during Covid-19 because "the world has become flooded with synthetic plastic masks which are becoming the world's next environmental problem."
But Nick says they are fighting against that and getting traction.
"Based on wool you get better performance for an individual or a device because it provides the lowest possible air flow resistance or breathing resistance if it's a mask ... that low resistance is coupled with high protection efficiency. That enables us to make P2 or N95 respirators (hospital grade), right through to consumer masks, medical devices, in-line air filters with a performance advantage."
He says wool being biodegradable also brings environmental benefits.
"We have a platform for future technology where people are going to be sick of pouring tonnes and tonnes of plastic fibre into the waste streams which end up in the ocean or land fill for millions of years," he says.
Nick says the future of the business is not about competing on price at the bottom of the market, but on performance.
"Our play is not a volume play, it's not how many more million sheep can we add to New Zealand but how many more dollars can we get per sheep."
The filter in one mask only needs a gram of wool so it's not too expensive as well as being a healthy option.
"Multiply that up by 8 billion people every day and you've got a large number. But the most important number is really the dollars per kilo."
The maths is similar to air conditioning filters for large apartment buildings in Europe, the Americas or Asia, Nick says.
"Get that product to millions or billions of people and you have a very viable programme and that's what we're heading towards," he says.
Lanaco is also providing filters for the NASA space programme and the next astronauts going into space.
"They chose ours above all others in the world because of the function the wool gives to the filters in protecting the air those astronauts breathe in a hazardous environment."
The filters' natural fire retardant property was also significant, he says.
While production of the NASA filtration product is done in Auckland, Nick says if it makes sense to license a manufacturing plant nearer the end user, they will do that.