Ask somebody for a reality about New Zealand and likelihood is they’ll doubtless say, “There are more sheep than people.” It’s true, with 30 million sheep to 4.4 million people, so it’s little surprise that wool manufacturing is a significant supply of export income, and nationwide delight, for the nation. But the trade is in critical decline. Total wool exports fell 30.2 percent to NZ$367 million ($251.3 million USD) within the 12 months to January 2021, and with wool costs so low it will probably usually price farmers extra to shear sheep than they will get for the wool as soon as offered.
We’re not speaking about luxurious Merino wool right here. That ultrafine fiber nonetheless instructions a excessive worth, nevertheless it makes up solely 10 % of New Zealand wool merchandise. Some 80 % of New Zealand wool is definitely robust wool, a coarser pure fiber extra sometimes used for carpets and rugs.
Changing tastes and the recognition of artificial fibers means there’s a surfeit of robust wool in New Zealand—an estimated 1 million tons is saved ready for the costs to enhance—however 26-year-old inventor Logan Williams, and his firm Shear Edge, is hoping to profit from this more and more ignored materials by chopping it up and utilizing it to make boats, knives, fencing, and absolutely anything that’s presently made utilizing plastic.
Williams has pioneered a technique of including processed robust wool to polymers, together with bio-based PLA (polylactic acid), sometimes created from corn starch. The result’s a cloth that not solely makes use of much less plastic however is lighter and stronger—and, crucially, this wooly plastic may be processed by current plastic-forming equipment.
“Wool is composed of keratin protein,” explains Williams. “It’s actually one of the strongest natural materials on the planet, so when it gets infused with the polymer it makes it incredibly strong, but also lighter, so the more wool we can put into the polymer the lighter the products will be and less plastic will be needed.”
The pellets, made in Shear Edge’s Hamilton factory, south of Auckland on New Zealand’s North Island, can be used as a substitute for plastic manufacturing without having to invest in new machinery. “Our pellets can be universally applied to almost all forms of manufacturing, says Williams. “This includes injection molding, extrusion, rotational molding, and thermoforming. Our customers may only have to slightly change the temperature and torque of their existing machinery, and aside from visible fibers, it looks almost identical to the industry standard.”
Shear Edge’s wool composites have been examined by Scion Research (a New Zealand government-owned firm that carries out scientific analysis for the good thing about the nation) to worldwide ISO and ASTM requirements, and the outcomes present that wool makes composites lighter and stiffer, with increased influence and tensile power.
Shear Edge is presently producing 4 tons a day, and Williams hopes that by utilizing robust wool, he may give farmers an earnings stream for a product that’s usually thought-about nugatory, particularly as they will use elements of the fleece resembling bellies, aspect,s and items that will in any other case be thrown away. Currently the corporate’s components replaces as a lot as 35 per cent of the everyday base polymer with no discount in efficiency. It’s additionally price noting that, in contrast to a cloth resembling glass fiber, it’s 100% recyclable.