Lanaco, based in Ellerslie, has capitalised on the superior attributes of wool and developed the world’s most breathable filter media for respiratory protection devices, including anti-pollution face masks. The specially-designed face masks that use the Lanaco media are sold widely through Asia.
"In recent years wool has been an under-valued material, and from 2010 we focused on filtration using wool as the active ingredient for our air filter media," says Lanaco chief executive Nick Davenport.
"Wool has an amazing propensity to manage moisture. It can absorb 30 per cent of its own weight in moisture before it feels wet; synthetics are less than 10 per cent. Wool doesn’t burn readily, and it is the most positively charged electrostatic fibre that exists – which gives wool its filtration properties."
Lanaco’s HELIX Filter Media traps the smallest of particles and bacteria and allows people to breathe purified air in a polluted environment. "We've created something unique – an end-to-end supply chain which starts by getting the supply genetics right and goes through to the manufacture of a high-value, scientifically verified product here in New Zealand."
Only the best fine wool matters
The filter media's performance is driven by fine wool which comes from composite sheep specially bred in the Central Otago high country – the wool supply and breeding programme is managed by one of the Lanaco directors Andy Ramsden, a highly regarded sheep breeder from Wanaka.
"We analysed thousands of different samples of wool for filtration performance, and out of that established specific breed types to deliver the desired qualities. Our sheep are scientifically selected and farmed in a managed breeding programme to deliver the performance and scale," says Davenport.
"We are four years into the breeding programme and our sheep already produce wool fibre that makes the world’s best respiratory air filter. They are a very smart breed designed to produce long-term sustainable gains, a consistent supply and high returns for the farmers."
When Lanaco first started it was using between one and two tonnes of wool in a year. In 2017 it will use more than 25 tonnes. "We are growing exponentially," says Davenport. "Until last year (2016) our business was 80 per cent research and development and 20 per cent commercial. Now it has swung the other way round."
Our product is more breathable and uses less energy. We have developed unique science-based technology that delivers value to customers who adopt it, and better health to the millions who use it.”
State-of-the-art face masks spurs growth
Lanaco has proven its technology by supplying filter media for industrial protective equipment in South Africa and Australia, and it experienced rapid growth by supplying its filter for state-of-the-art face masks exported to the lucrative Asian market.
In late 2016 Lanaco signed a significant distribution agreement with Auckland-based Healthy Breath which linked up with designer Karen Walker to make and export the fashionable anti-pollution face masks called MEO. These reusable masks have been designed around the unique Lanaco Helix filter. This has allowed the MEO mask to maximise the marketing benefits of quality design and made in New Zealand.
According to the World Health Organisation, poor air quality claims millions of lives each year, with urban air pollution accounting for a major proportion. Consumers in pollution-affected countries such as India and China spend more than $3 billion on face masks each year - with double-digit sales growth annually.
"Our product will be exported inside face masks like the MEO in huge numbers – not just to China but to all of Asia and beyond," says Davenport.