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Lanaco director of sales and marketing and co-founder Nick Davenport, operations manager Sonja Jekel, and head of farming Andy Ramsden outside Parliament at the launch of Lanaco’s P2 disposable face mask

To the Moon and Mars
via New Zealand

High-tech natural-fibre filter maker Lanaco has launched a protective mask product that incorporate its organic/hybrid Helix filter – a product that has been selected by NASA for use in its next mission to the Moon and Mars.

WEB EXCLUSIVE

If there is anything that Kiwis have learnt this year, it is how quickly things can change. People and businesses have been focused on one thing, then, all of a sudden, a black swan event comes in the form of a virus. This has demanded that businesses be agile – and this certainly defines Lanaco.
 
Lanaco started making Helix filters to accredited biomedical standards more than five years ago, using a high-tech application of New Zealand wool, for others to incorporate into their masks, filters and other respiratory devices. 
 
NASA has selected the wool filter to protect astronauts on the next manned missions to the Moon and beyond. The electrostatically-charged nature of the specially-bred wool in the filter captures particles in the air like a ‘dust magnet’, filtering particles that synthetic filters can’t.
 
It was the Australian bushfires and then the Covid-19 global pandemic that saw company founder and director of sales and marketing, Nick Davenport, change direction. He committed the company to building a totally indigenous supply chain. Lanaco began making disposable face masks as well as filters for other businesses and community groups to incorporate into their masks. 

A million masks a month

 In the past four months, Lanaco has developed and achieved certification of disposable surgical masks to AS/NZS 1716 P2 (Australasia’s gold standard) and N95 (the USA gold standard) and is currently making a million masks a month in its Auckland factory. The product was officially launched at Parliament in July. 

In parallel, the company initiated a national community mask programme, proving the worth of hundreds of local sewing companies and groups to provide masks to the community with functional filters.
 
The outcome is a comprehensive mask manufacturing capability spanning the nation, one that leverages the unique capability New Zealand has to develop a globally significant company producing high-performance wool-based filters for medicine, anti-pollution and industrial applications. 

The initiative significantly and uniquely strengthens New Zealand’s ability to protect its population from Covid-19, Nick Davenport says.

Local supply chain

Lanaco’s products are homegrown with a local supply chain. The wool is grown near Wanaka and the masks are manufactured in Auckland. It is the first such locally-produced disposable face mask to meet the AS/NZS 1716 P2 standards – local standards for respiratory protective devices equivalent to the N95 standard in the United States and commonly quoted in the media.
 
That means that New Zealand has a new secure domestic supply of respiratory masks, especially as the population moves towards using face masks in public and on public transport under Covid alert levels.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Associate Trade Minister Nanaia Mahuta try out the P2 disposable face mask with the Lanaco team during the launch at Parliament

Nick Davenport observes that reusable masks are unsuited to frontline medical use. “Those on the frontline need a P2 grade mask that they can use and then dispose of. As our masks are made from wool, they offer the same medical advantages of masks made from polypropylene, a polymer derived from petroleum oil. Unlike oil-based masks, wool is easier to breathe through and to wear for an extended time, and unlike synthetics, Lanaco masks are made using a natural and renewable product.”
 
Nick says the company’s technology is unique because its key is the way that wool fibres are fundamental to the particle capture system. The company has its own sheep breeding programme comprising about 1000 elite sheep. “We use specially-bred New Zealand wool from Central Otago – an approach which gives us both the ability to continually improve, as well as defend our performance and market position.”

Supplying the world

Lanaco is just scratching the surface of the potential of the technology and its markets, Nick says. “In May, the OECD estimated that the daily demand for surgical masks is around 28 million per day, but including caregivers and suspected Covid-19 patients adds another 12 million surgical masks per day – that’s nearly 15 billion masks annually. It means we’ve got domestic independence for critical products, but we can also supply the world as well.”
 
Lanaco offers the highest per kilogram yield for wool that is possible. In time, the use of wool as a filter medium has the potential to use 20% of wool from the national sheep flock. That’s a game-changer for the industry, Nick says.

Lanaco is now experiencing exponential growth. “We’ve got a local supply chain, and we’re creating jobs and stimulating manufacturing supply chains in New Zealand,” Nick concludes. “Our strategic strength is providing a high-value use for New Zealand wool – and as our involvement with NASA proves, the sky is not the limit.”


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