An Auckland company which makes filters based on wool has been selected by US space agency Nasa to supply its next mission to the Moon and Mars.
Lanaco makes respiratory filters and devices using wool from specially selected sheep flocks in Central Otago.
The company’s Helix filters, which are used by a number of local washable mask manufacturers, are also used in industry, ventilation and appliances.
And now the filters will be used to go into space, chief executive Marc Michel said.
'’We’ve been working on it for a number of years but the first product went off to the contractor two weeks ago,’' he said.
The filters will be used in the emergency fire protection equipment that crew will wear inside Nasa’s Orion capsule.
Commercially, the deal was not very significant but it was ‘’massive validation’’ for Lanaco's science, Michel said.
Lanaco was founded to help lift the value of wool, and over the last decade, it has been genetically breeding its wool for ‘’bulk filtration media’’ which it supplies to clients like 3M.
It was also supplying material to Chinese mask makers but the Australian bushfires and Covid-19 related supply chain disruptions in March prompted the company to start making its own face masks.
As the lockdown approached, there was also an upsurge in interest from Kiwi companies wanting to make washable masks, so Lanaco shared with them a mask design from Hong Kong and produced the filters for it.
‘’We probably supplied 400,000 filters since March, and it means we’ve preserved 400,000 medical masks for frontline health workers. And it created employment and some other positive spin-offs,’’ Michel said.
The company is about to launch its own medical grade face masks, which passed international certification last month.
Founder Nick Davenport said wool was excellent at capturing germs and had capabilities synthetics could not match.
‘’Wool is the world’s most positively-charged natural fibre, which translates to an electrostatic filter which acts as a magnet to capture a whole range of particles in the air.
‘’It’s naturally bacteria-static, so germs don’t remain on it and it naturally absorbs toxins.”
The company had been ‘’beseiged’’ with orders and it was scaling up to supply the new mask to hospitals and hardware stores here and abroad, Michel said.
Chairman Andy West said there was a lot of innovation and technology being developed in primary industry at present.
“We are definitely going to contribute to the Government’s ambition to increase the value of primary sector exports by $10 billion per annum in the next 10 years through productivity growth.'’
By Catherine Harris, Stuff