Years of research and development and several millions of dollars investment are now paying dividends for Auckland innovator, Lanaco (formerly Texus Fibre).

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."

Lanasco wool science
Lanaco Chief Executive Nick Davenport with his company’s products.

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.”

Nick Davenport Chief Executive of Lanaco

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.

fashionable MEO face masks Lanaco
Fashionable MEO face masks include Lanaco’s unique HELIX Filter Media

How ATEED helped

Lanaco worked with AgResearch, Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand, universities, and CSIRO to develop its enabling technology. Lanaco received support from Wool Industry Research, Agmardt, and Callaghan Innovation through an introduction from Auckland Tourism, Events and Economic Developmenty (ATEED).

The Callaghan support including hiring an Auckland University Masters student to complete research into the Chinese market.

Lanaco has a staff of 10 covering science, product development, genetics and IP; engineering, production, marketing and commercial. The innovative business has set a target of reaching $100 million in earnings by 2022, and launching many new products during that time.

"We are growing as fast as we can put capital into the business," says Davenport. "Completing simultaneous research, product and market development, and scaling up manufacturing is full of challenges."

But Davenport sees great potential for his company's filter media. It can be used in home appliances such as vacuum cleaners and heat pumps, medical devices and automobiles.

At a glance

Lanaco’s business: Developed the world’s most breathable filter media for respiratory protection devices, including anti-pollution face masks

Location: Based in Ellerslie, Auckland

Export markets: Asia, South Africa, Australia and other potential markets

ATEED assisted by: Making connection with Callaghan Innovation for R&D funding, including hiring Masters student to research the Chinese market