NASA is evaluating New Zealand wool technology

A New Zealand-developed, wool-based filter technology is one of several filter systems being evaluated by NASA to protect astronauts in the Orion spacecraft on upcoming deep-space exploration missions.

Designed by Auckland based wool innovators Lanaco, the HelixTM filter is sourced from the company’s purpose bred AstinoTM sheep and is being tested for use in Orion’s emergency life-support system in the event of on-board fires.

The Helix filter could be used as a pre-filter layer for emergency personal equipment and cabin air systems, preventing clogging in other filter layers by removing thick contaminants like molten plastic.

Shaun Tan, Lanaco Head of Technology, recently returned from the Johnson Space Centre in Houston and is confident that the Helix filter can deliver on NASA’s requirements.

“In the case of the Orion life-support system, the Helix filter is being tested for particle loading capacity, breathability, flame resistance and the ability to function even if exposed to Orion’s water-based fire extinguisher systems,” says Dr Tan.

“The Helix filter is currently used in protective equipment in high contaminant situations like construction and mining, but firefighting in space represents a new challenge for our R&D team.” 

Lanaco’s wool-filter technology made headlines in 2017 following the launch of anti-pollution face masks now popular in several Asian and Indian mega-cities.

Lanaco CEO Nick Davenport says that recent successes demonstrate the versatility and effectiveness of wool-based air filtration.

“Wool is an outstanding fibre. Its electrostatic properties catch small harmful particles, its protein structure captures gases and harmful toxins and yet the fibre is bacteria and flame resistant. We believe in wool as a sustainable, innovative solution to combat air-pollution,” says Mr Davenport.

“The Lanaco story is one of New Zealand high-country farmers producing the world’s greatest natural fibre to protect people from poor quality air. To now be playing a role in supporting deep space exploration is a testament to the farmers, scientists and manufacturers that have pushed Lanaco to the forefront of filter technology.”

Source: Lanaco

New research uncovers the effects on skin health of what we wear

AgResearch scientists are shedding new light on the connection between what people wear and the health of their skin.

In research funded by Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), AgResearch has been working with human volunteers and testing skin reactions to different fabrics.

Initial findings show benefits for skin health from the natural fibre (wool) over a synthetic fibre (polyester).

The work follows on from studies by AWI at the Queensland Institute of Dermatology and the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute that showed significant reductions in sufferers’ eczema symptoms from wearing superfine wool garments against the skin.

“There’s been a lot of science looking at the connection between our health and what we put in our bodies, but here we are looking what we wear on our bodies and what that may mean for our skin health,” says AgResearch scientist Dr Alex Hodgson.

“We set out with our 16 volunteers to look at how their healthy skin reacted to wearing close-fitting fabrics during the day – wool and polyester. The volunteers wore merino wool base-layer shirts, with a patch of polyester on one side of their upper back area.

“We took skin measurements from both sides (wool and polyester) of their upper backs in a lab over a period of four weeks to look at things such as hydration, water loss through the skin, and inflammation.”

The researchers found polyester tended to reduce the hydration of the wearers’ skin and also – especially for men – resulted in increased redness or inflammation of the skin.  The skin covered with wool showed no negative effects during the study.

“From this we can see that wool promoted the maintenance of healthy skin whilst polyester had a drying effect with some inflammation,” Dr Hodgson said.

“The study has a second phase which involves a ‘long-term’ wear study in which the volunteers wear the trial garments continuously for five days and nights. The results of this will be assessed later this year.”

Ultimately, this work is about providing guidance and reassurance for consumers, Dr Hodgson said.

“We know consumers now consider many factors before they buy goods. Just as people now know what different foods can do to their health, our aim is that people will also be able to make informed choices about what they wear, and what that might mean for the health of their skin.”

The eight men and eight women who volunteered for the study ranged in age from 25 to 63 years.

Source: AgResearch

Wool as a `last line of defence’ for armed forces and emergency services

AgResearch reports its scientists have been putting the heat on wool garments to see what level of fire protection they can provide to those in the armed forces or emergency services.

With wool’s burn-resistant properties being well understood, AgResearch – working alongside co-funder Australian Wool Innovation and UK-based New Zealand company Armadillo Merino – has been exploring how wool base layer or “next to skin” garments respond to flame and intense heat, and specifically how absorbed moisture in the wool affects the flammability.

“For those in the armed forces or emergency services a lot of the main focus is on the outer garments, for obvious reasons, but here we have looked at the additional defence a base layer garment can offer,” says Dr Alex Hodgson, who has led the work for AgResearch.

“One of the experiments we did was to test out how skin beneath a wool base layer is affected by fire – using the skin from a pig carcass. From this, we found evidence that wool garments could lessen the severity of burn injury as compared to standard issue base layers used by police and military personnel in the UK.”

“What we are aiming to show is how effective wool garments can be as a last line of defence in clothing for those working in environments where they may be faced with the risk of fire and intense heat. The relatively high level of absorbed moisture in wool does appear to provide an advantage.”

Andy Caughey, of Armadillo Merino, says the research demonstrates that injuries can be reduced or prevented by wearing a next-to-skin layer of merino as their first or last line of defence.

AWI says it is continuing to invest in a range of targeted research and development to build and extend the scientific credentials for wool’s natural and unique attributes. These include the ability to manage a microclimate next to the skin, to resist odour and to provide inherent flame resistance without requiring chemical modification.

Some of the work done by AgResearch scientists is due to be presented at a textile flammability conference in Melbourne later this month.