Our science supports the development of safe, high-value products using biological resources, including natural fibres like wool. Bio-based alternatives reduce reliance on synthetic materials and create new value streams.

Our Science

The versatility of wool

Wool is an extremely versatile fibre. Our research has shown that wool is readily biodegradable in the ocean, has naturally fire-resistant qualities, has anti-odour properties and its products are a natural fit in a circular bioeconomy. 

AgResearch has world-leading expertise in consumer-relevant attributes of wool, and the farm systems that produce it. We undertake research to understand, quantify and enhance the benefits of wool in consumer products including product performance, environmental impact and even human safety and wellbeing.

Demonstrating our strong commitment to wool, AgResearch has invested in scientific instrumentation to improve our understanding of wool fibre and widen the application of wool in textiles and materials. As well as our extensive laboratories, our scientists have access to well-equipped pilot-scale processing plants enabling discoveries made in the lab to be rapidly tested on a larger scale. We cover wool fibre processing from farm to product and beyond.

Leading wool research

Wearing wool benefits skin health

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

Working with human volunteers, our scientists tested the skin's reaction to wool and polyester fabrics to determine which fibre offers the best benefits for skin health

Results showed that wool promoted the maintenance of healthy skin while polyester had a drying effect with some inflammation.

Research underscores the environmental advantages of wool

Research conducted by our scientists shows the advantages of wool over synthetic alternatives in the marine environment.

Our research has proven wool fibres are 100% biodegradable when buried in soil and when submerged in water over time.

Microplastic fibres, which are found in most synthetic carpet and clothing, do not biodegrade under the same conditions. 

Teaming up with Scion to test wool against synthetic alternatives in the marine environment.

Sheep wool may offer a source of healthier diets for our pets

AgResearch scientists have found that proteins from wool can be added to the diets of pets and may improve their health.

The study on domestic cats has shown that these proteins could be used as a dietary supplement to improve digestion and nutrition. This opens up the possibility of a new use for sheep wool that could benefit a broader range of animals, and potentially humans.

The next steps for the research will be to study the effect of the wool protein on animals other than cats.

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

AgResearch 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.

Working with Australian Wool Innovation and Armadillo Merino, we have explored how a wool layer against the skin responds to flame and intense heat.

Evidence has shown that wool garments can lessen the severity of burn injuries compared to standard issue base layers currently offered to armed forces and emergency service personnel in the UK.

Wool at AgResearch

AgResearch scientists are experts in consumer-relevant attributes of wool and the farm systems that produce it. Download this summary to learn more about our work.

Find out more (pdf 2.4 MB)

Bio-based products

Modified proteins from agriculture have the potential to be natural alternatives to synthetic products. 

AgResearch has unique capability in protein, fibre and materials science, engineering and biotechnology. This enables the development of products from agricultural bioresources that add economic value, while meeting environmental, social and cultural expectations. 

Using modified keratin from animal by-products, we are researching eco-friendly alternatives to synthetic polymers used in technology for everything from medical implants to packaging.

Leading bio-based product research

Exploring new protein-based materials 

A circular bioeconomy is a model that emphasises the use of renewable natural capital and focuses on eliminating waste. At AgResearch, we are working to maximise value and minimise waste from bio-based products from production to consumption. An example of this is a product in development called Keratinite.  

In June 2023, AgResearch was awarded the Sustainability Award at the Food, Fibre and Agritech Challenge 2023 for Keratinite, a natural binder that could replace the formaldehyde-based resins in particleboards. The new product is made from a keratin-rich waste stream like feathers, animal hair or wool. Our award winning Research Engineer, Paul Middlewood, won a place on an eight-week initiative to help with the development of Keratinite. 

Research Engineer, Paul Middlewood, receiving the Sustainability Award at the Food, Fibre and Agritech Challenge 2023.

Developing raw materials

New Zealand’s protein-based biomaterial production has historically been dominated by exports of unprocessed raw materials (such as wool bales). With our small market, manufacturing capacity and relatively high labour costs, the creation of products (and the addition of value) from our raw material has mostly happened offshore. Exploring and developing new ways to add value to our biomaterial resources before they leave New Zealand, has required innovative thinking, research and development.  
AgResearch is proud to have played a significant role in the work undertaken by the Wool Research Organisation of New Zealand (WRONZ) to develop and explore new uses for strong wool, through the creation and application of deconstructed-wool materials. AgResearch has provided expert capability to analyse and experiment with the deconstructed materials in various forms and provided specialised services such as skin microbiome analysis and electron microscopy. 

Wool Source Limited

Wool Source Limited (owned by WRONZ) is now exploring commercialisation opportunities for these deconstructed wool materials.

Find out more

Science for Technological Innovation

National Science Challenge

AgResearch contributed its expertise to 4D-printing and additive manufacturing programmes as part of the Science for Technological Innovation (SfTI) National Science Challenge(external link)

We investigated how to use proteins, such as keratin, from New Zealand’s primary industries to produce biodegradable materials by adapting materials to existing additive manufacturing technologies or adapting those technologies to bio-based materials. 

The team successfully created responsive 4D printed protein-based materials that change form and functionality depending on the surrounding humidity.

Senior Scientist Sonya Scott with 4D-printed sheep made out of keratin.
  • Additional capabilities

    • Data and analytics
    • Metabolomics
    • Systems biology
    • Biotechnology
    • Protein science and proteomics
    • Structural biology
    • Bio-based material science
    • Bio-based alternatives
    • Statistics

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