CUTTING-edge wool textile technology developed by CSIRO for industrial filters has found a lucrative new commercial application in the manufacture of respirators for the personal protective equipment (PPE) market.
Major brand personal air respirators with filters containing a significant component of Australian wool can now be picked up in the machine tools sections of many leading hardware stores around Australia.
Personal respirators are used widely in industries such as mining, construction & demolition — as well as in the emergency services arena as part of operations such as disaster relief.
The wool-rich filters manufactured using CSIRO’s technology have a high dust holding capacity and therefore a long lifetime — and independent tests confirm they outperform a range of commercially available competitive products.
The distribution of personal respirators utilising these wool-rich filters is currently Australia-wide — but there is export potential.
The PPE market in the U.S. alone was estimated to have reached $6.4 billion in 2007 — a seven percent rise from 2006*.
Driving the transfer of this ground-breaking technology to the stage of successful commercial manufacturer has been a partnership between three prominent Australian companies — Australian Wool Innovation (AWI), CSIRO & Michell Pty Ltd.
AWI started the process, funding researchers at CSIRO’s Textile and Fibre Technology laboratory in Geelong to create efficient electrostatic filters from blends of wool with synthetic fibres.
The manufacturing technology developed by CSIRO resulted in the production of an electrostatically charged wool filter medium which is highly efficient and makes breathing easier.
The secret to efficient fibre-based filtration is the application of an electrostatic charge to the fibres during production of the non-woven filter mat.
These electrostatic charges attract dust and pollutant particles, and hold them in the filter, greatly improving efficiency.
CSIRO’s researchers optimised the wool-synthetic fibre blend ratio, and developed manufacturing procedures to produce the filter material.
Several commercial partners assisted at various points in the project, one of them the Adelaide-based wool technology company Michell Pty Ltd, which financially supported fibre selection trials by CSIRO.
Michell is one of Australia’s largest exporters of Australian wool fibre and has been associated with the international wool textile industry for over 130 years.
These trials were followed by an independent overseas evaluation of CSIRO’s concept by consultants engaged through Michell — which confirmed that the wool filters performed well compared with 100% synthetic filters.
The concept has now found a practical outlet — with Michell securing a commercial commitment for the production and Australian distribution of over 500,000 personal respirators fitted with wool-rich filters – and refill cartridges – in the next year.
“The transfer of laboratory technology to successful commercial manufacturing is a very high risk process, but in this case – by collaborating resources within Australian Wool Innovation, CSIRO & Michell, it has produced a successful outcome for both the wool & air filtration industries,” said Peter Michell MD of Michell.
Other industrial applications for wool-rich industrial filters are under development as wool begins to regain the market share in filter media that it held decades ago.
* Source: SBI (Specialists in Business Information) — Personal Protective Equipment in the US Report – Feb 1, 2008