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It has long been an often fractured and in-fighting industry – but ‘wool’ has got together, pooled up some investment money and alongside government is going to look at new uses for an ancient fibre.
Not before time.

While merino’s been the glamour child for NZ wool, it makes up a relatively small fraction of the total clip. We’re the largest exporter of crossbred wool (26-40 microns), and we end up standing on most of it. More than 80% goes into carpets.

Following industry discussions over the past couple of years, a new wool consortium, Wool Industry Research Ltd. has been formed, a JV with combined Wool Research Organisation Inc and FoRST funding.

Under this arrangement, $3 million a year will be put in industry good and individual company good, projects. ($1m from the Wool Research Organisation, $0.5m from wool industry participants, $1.5m from FoRST/govt).
WRInc has three main foci says its chairman, Christchurch-based Graham Brown.

• Industry good projects such as end of life/recycling and insect resistance issues in carpet
• Company specific co-funded projects for wool
• New uses for wool

The consortium’s goal is remarkably simple – improving the price and demand for wool.

It has not yet detailed the research projects that will be carried out, but R&D efforts will be market-pulled rather than science-pushed.

For that it will be guided by research, and a report due in May by New York based innovation consultancy Fahrenheit 212.

There is potential that new products and new uses could be quite disruptive for the industry as it currently stands, “but we’ll be trying to bring the existing industry along, and they may want to be involved in new projects,” Brown says.

“They could come up with a range of options, some revolutionary, or perhaps nothing,” he says. “But, if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. Obviously, we can’t carry on the way that we have.”

The consortium has, (cleverly in sticK’s opinion) got around the issue of industry participants in the form of individual companies contributing to something that’s often considered an industry good.

If a project that is co-funded by an individual company as well as the consortium, any resulting intellectual property is owned by the company.

“We want to get away from the debate about IP,” says Brown. “As long as a project meets the consortium’s KPI’s we’ll have a look at it.”