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New Zealand: Wool research project focuses on uses of coarse yarn

Forget carpet, New Zealand's coarse wool, could one day turn up as an ingredient in a food supplement or a Lego piece, if a new research project turns out successful. A $21 million research being jointly conducted by the Wool Industry Research Ltd (WIRL) and the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is attempting to unravel new methods in which coarse wool could be used. As far as synthetics is concerned, wool has been in retreat for decades, but WIRL manager Ian Cuthbertson believes this could change if new uses are found for the product which was once New Zealand's biggest export earner. He points out instead of sending unprocessed fibre as is done now, at $6 a kg, wool could be sent as an ingredient at $16 a kg.

The seven-year research focuses on new ways to use wool as a source of high value Keratin. The program will also work with traditional manufacturing industries to develop new technical textiles. And as Cuthbertson believes the program is essential for the future of the industry since the price farmers receive barely covers the cost of production. To get the industry thriving again, it needs to get around $7-8 a kg. At the moment it is $6 but over the last 15 years, it has been only about $4.

The program will be rolled out at $3 million a year with WIRL and the wool industry funding 60 per cent and 40 per cent by MBIE respectively. WIRL is a fully owned subsidiary of Wool Research Organisation of NZ that underwrites the industry funding component of the new partnership.