Ask someone about fact of New Zealand and they are likely to say, ‘There are more sheep than people.’ True, with 30 million sheep to 4.4 million people, so it is no wonder that wool production is a major source of export revenue and national pride for the country. But the industry is in serious decline. Total wool exports fell 30.2% to New Zealand’s $ 367 million ($ 251.3 million) in the year to January 2021, and at such low wool prices, it can often cost farmers more to shear sheep, than they can get for the wool once sold.
We are not talking about luxury merino wool here. This ultra-fine fiber is still expensive, but makes up only 10 percent of New Zealand wool products. About 80 percent of New Zealand’s wool is actually strong wool, a coarser natural fiber commonly used for rugs and carpets.
The changing tastes and popularity of man-made fibers mean that New Zealand has a surplus of strong wool – approximately 1 million tonnes are stored in anticipation of prices to improve – but 26-year-old inventor Logan Williams and his company Shear Edge hope to makes the most of this increasingly ignored material by chopping it up and using it to make boats, knives, fences and just about anything that is currently made with plastic.
Williams pioneered the method of adding treated healthy wool to polymers, including biologically based PLA (polylactic acid), commonly made from cornstarch. The result is a material that not only uses less plastic, but is lighter and stronger – and most importantly, this wool plastic can be processed by existing plastic forming machines.
“Wool is made up of keratin protein,” explains Williams. “It’s actually one of the strongest natural materials on the planet, so when it is poured into the polymer, it makes it incredibly strong, but also lighter, so the more wool we can put in the polymer, the lighter it will be. be products and less plastic will be needed. “
Pellets produced at the Shear Edge plant in Hamilton, south of Auckland on the North Island of New Zealand, can be used as a substitute for plastic production without having to invest in new machinery. “Our pellets can be used universally in almost any form of production,” says Williams. “This includes die casting, extrusion, rotary molding and thermoforming. Our customers may only need to slightly change the temperature and torque of their existing machines, and apart from the visible fibers, it looks almost identical to the industry standard. ”
Shear Edge wool composites have been tested by Scion Research (a state-owned New Zealand company that conducts research for the country) in accordance with international ISO and ASTM standards, and the results show that wool makes composites lighter and harder. with higher impact and tensile strength.
Shear Edge currently produces 4 tonnes a day and Williams hopes that by using healthy wool, it can give farmers a stream of income for a product that is often considered useless, especially since they can use pieces of fleece as belly , countries, and pieces that would otherwise be discarded. Currently, the company’s formula replaces up to 35% of the typical base polymer without reducing productivity. It is also worth noting that unlike a material such as fiberglass, it is 100 percent recyclable.