NZ coarse wool innovation on-track to disrupt 78 billion USD global hygiene market.
A Wellington-based start up company, founded by a mother and daughter with a multi generation background in farming, has found a new way to add value to coarse wool that could revive the sector and promises to create fresh revenue opportunities for New Zealand wool growers.
Derelee Potroz Smith is CEO and founder of Woolchemy, which she established in partnership with her mother Angela Potroz. Derelee, whose professional background is in engineering and whose family has farmed in Taranaki since 1876, says the company has developed patented technology to use wool to replace petroleum-derived textiles in hygiene consumer products.
“Legislative and consumer pressure worldwide is bearing down on manufacturers to use sustainable resources and take responsibility for the full lifecycle of their products. Disposable personal hygiene products, which include nappies, feminine hygiene pads and incontinence pads, are hugely problematic in this respect. These products account for a global market valued at $US78 billion per annum.
“We have developed a commercially scalable process to re-engineer wool for greater absorbency, enabling liquids to penetrate the outer cuticle of the fibre. What we have produced matches the performance of the petroleum-derived equivalent textiles used in disposable personal hygiene products, while also adding extra benefits that only wool provides, such as natural temperature regulation and odour control.
“Every disposable nappy uses one cup of crude oil. Polyethylene has been used in hygiene products since the 1950s. Manufacturers and consumers moved away from wool so long ago that they have forgotten the properties that wool has that petrochemical-based products do not,” she says.
Using 33-39 micron New Zealand coarse wool, Woolchemy’s ecofriendly biotechnology process creates an ultrathin lightweight biodegradable composite material for manufacture and supply by the roll to the multinationals that market disposable nappy brands.
Derelee says Woolchemy’s strategy is to collaborate with key pharmaceutical and fast moving consumer goods companies to licence intellectual property and supply sustainable non-woven textiles. “Although there is huge demand for products that are ecologically sustainable, consumers still prefer the convenience of disposability, and this demand is not likely to change quickly.
“We are providing a basic material that fits those two characteristics. Ultimately we aim to assist the production of 100 per cent biodegradable products to manufacturers who currently rely heavily on unsustainable petrochemical based materials,” she says.
Having taken approximately nine years to optimise their revolutionary textile, Woolchemy will go into commercial production in 2020, using 40 tonnes of coarse wool initially, rising to more than 200 tonnes within three years.
“We will ensure wool is sourced from New Zealand, where we can attest to the quality, traceability and responsible production standards of the output product to our specifications.
“We currently have a growing list of more than 20 different applications we intend to develop as we grow,” says Derelee.
In the United States 20 billion disposable nappies go to landfill every year, creating 3.5 million tons of waste, which takes 500 years to decompose.
PGG Wrightson Wool welcomes these new, innovative, biodegradable products, promoting health and well-being, using natural crossbred wool grown and harvested caringly by New Zealand’s sheep farmers.