AUCKLAND, New Zealand– Not many companies claim they can turn a kilo of collagen from discarded hoki skins into a fiber that could reach all the way to the sun. Revolution Fibres Ltd., an Auckland-based nanotechnology startup, is making that claim. 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 nanofibers are up to 500 times thinner than a human hair. Initial applications are expected in clothing, filtration, reinforcing, electronics and packaging. The fibers are extremely strong due to the molecular alignment of the polymer particles.

Revolution Fibres’ first commercial product will be air filter mats for New Zealand ventilation company HRV. Diffusing the nanofibres onto a plate made from reformed potato starch creates the biodegradable mats.

“It is a good use of something that would normally be chucked away,” said Revolution Fibres 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 is 150 years old. “There’s been a lot of research, not a lot of commercialization,” said Hosie.

Air filtration mats of nanofibres provide a much greater surface area to capture pathogens and dust particles while having less impact on airflow than other mat-fiber types. In addition to conventional mechanical trapping technology, the new mats utilize the enhanced entrapment properties from van der Waals forces due to the fibers being so small. The same attraction forces enable a gecko to stay attached to any surface it chooses to climb.

Revolution Fibres is going one step further. Instead of providing microbial protection by incorporating nanosilver particles, the company is using manuka and other plant-based extracts to neutralize pathogens.

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

“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 organization 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 nanofibre market is estimated at $102 million and is expected to grow to$2.2 billion by 2020.

Article by Peter Kerr
Published courtesy of BusinessDesk