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Fish skins power new Revolution

Wednesday 4th August 2010 1 Comment

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Not that many companies claim they can turn a kilo of collagen from discarded hoki skins into a fibre that could reach all the way to the Sun.

Auckland-based nano-technology start-up company Revolution Fibre does.

Using an improved version of a laboratory model made by government science agency Plant & Food and a $456,000 TechNZ investment grant, the firm is building a commercial-scale electro-spinning machine that can do just that.

The extremely fine nano-fibres are up to 500 times thinner than a human hair and initial applications are expected in clothing, filtration, reinforcing, electronics and packaging. The fibres are extremely strong due to the molecular alignment of the polymer particles.

Revolution Fibre's first commercial product will be air filter mats for New Zealand ventilation company, HRV. The biodegradable mats are created by diffusing the nano-fibres onto a plate made from reformed potato starch.

"It is a good use of something that would normally be chucked away," says Revolution Fibre technical director, Iain Hosie.

"What is good about biomaterials is it means you stay away from plastic and petrochemical-derived products."

Hosie says the world is on the cusp of a boom in electro-spinning, a technology that's 150 years old.

"There's been a lot of research, not a lot of commercialisation," he says.

Air filtration mats of nano-fibres provide a much greater surface area to capture pathogens and dust particles, while having less impact on airflow than other mat-fibre types.

As well as conventional mechanical trapping technology of existing air filters, the new mats utilise the enhanced entrapment properties from van der Waals forces due to the fibres being so small. The same attraction forces enable a gecko to stay attached to any surface it chooses to climb.

Revolution Fibres are also going one step further. Instead of providing microbial protection by incorporating nano-silver particles, they're using manuka and other plant-based extracts to neutralise pathogens.

The 18 month-old private company is initially looking to improve its production capability, while supplying the opportunity that HRV air filters requires.

"We're being very careful that we don't over-promise, but find the right markets and keep up with what we promise," Hosie said.

"We're also looking for the right commercial partner that's willing to grow with us."

Hosie said working with the Plant & Food Crown Research Institute has been an eye-opener.

"There's any amount of innovation and commercial potential within it, but not enough's being picked up.

"TechNZ funding has seen this firm grow from an idea to what could be a large export organisation in a fast-growing emerging market," said Richard Bentley, general manager manufacturing and high-growth firms at the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology.

Revolution Fibres has received more than $844,000 in TechNZ funding to date.

The value of the global nano-fibre market is estimated at US$102 million and is expected to grow to $US$2.2 billion by 2020.

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Comments from our readers

On 5 August 2010 at 10:25 am anitas said:
No 8 wire at its best, Congratulations to your team Mr Hosie. One hopes, as you state that more teams/companies/entrepreneurs pick up other innovations as your group has done. Or maybe Plant & Food Crown Research Institute + TechNZ funding need to advertise themselves better. This is a growth project and we need more of you out there. Regardless, congratulations again.
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