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Better wool

08 Nov, 2012

Scientists at AgResearch are looking for ways to improve the durability of woollen textiles and carpets in order to sustain the place of wool as a premium product.

Listen to audio: Better wool

Duration: 13:11

In 1920, wool made up more than a quarter of New Zealand’s exports, but today, it makes up just 1.6%. While wool is still worth $720 million a year to the New Zealand economy, it faces tough competition from synthetic fibres. Allison Ballance visits AgResearch’s Lincoln campus to find out more about some of the research to improve wool’s durability.

Get information sheet: New Zealand sheep farming: changing influences

Alternative compounds for insect resistance

Woollen textiles and clothing are susceptible to damage by insects, such as beetles and moths. In the early days, toxic compounds, such as DDT, were used to protect wool from insect damage. Today, synthetic pyrethroids are commonly used. Pyrethroids are applied during the dyeing stage of wool processing, and although they are cheap, the application process is inefficient.

Matthew Sunderland has been investigating alternative compounds for insect resistance that have environmental advantages, including insecticides with lower toxicities and non-insecticidal compounds.

Increasing wool’s resistance to damage caused by light

Steve McNeil is focusing on improving the ability of dyed wool to withstand fading and deterioration from exposure to light. He explains how they are looking at ways of effectively applying a sunblock to the wool so that the effect of light energy is dissipated harmlessly into heat rather than breaking down the fibres or the dyestuff itself.

Synthetic fibres are also susceptible to damage from light, but because of the way they are made, it’s easy to add chemical additives at the molten solution stage to stabilise them. Scientists have studied the different agents used on synthetic fibres and developed a method of applying these to wool. Now, they are able to test various additives on the wool and determine their resistance and viability.

Improving stain resistance

Mahbubul Hassan is researching more environmentally friendly ways of adding stain resistance to wool using plant-based rather than chlorine-based products. While wool has natural stain resistance, some of this is lost due to chemicals used during the dyeing process.

Get information sheet: Wool fibre properties

Programme details: Our Changing World

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