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Issue 468, 4 June 2001

Wool is latest ‘green’ building material

A revolutionary new building product using wool from British sheep has been developed through collaboration between textile engineers at the University of Leeds and a Cumbrian sheep farmer.

Seeing the product through from concept to production: Dr Stephen Russell (foreground) and his team, lecturer Dave Brooks (left) and research technician Manoj Rathod.

The product, Thermafleece, is a ‘green’ alternative to traditional building insulation and was created by textile researcher Dr Stephen Russell and his team for sheep farmer Christine Armstrong and her company, Second Nature UK Ltd.

"We have unique pilot-scale facilities here at the University to develop new non-woven fibrous products, and as a result we have a very successful research team working closely with industry," said Dr Russell. "It’s fascinating to work through from the initial idea, to developing and testing the product in its prototype stage, to seeing the finished product through large-scale production."

Unlike many insulation materials, Thermafleece is lightweight, easy to handle, causes no irritation to the skin, eyes or respiratory tract, helps control condensation by absorbing and releasing moisture, and has excellent thermal properties.

"We had to ensure the product met all the British standards," explained research technician Manoj Rathod. "It also had to retain its thermal insulation properties at the correct thickness for use by the building industry. We helped Second Nature approach potential partners to carry out the production, and then were on hand to iron out any technical hitches for the companies carrying out the production process."

There was emphasis from the beginning on minimising environmental impact: wool is a renewable resource, the insulation is totally recyclable, and the products used to enhance its qualities are all totally natural. Further issues that had to be tackled were flammability and resistance to insect damage.

Dr Russell said: "We were asked to use Herdwick and Swaledale fleeces which generally yield coarse, pigmented fibres not in high demand by the wool industry. We had no idea at the time that we’d be doing this against an impending decimation of these flocks from foot and mouth disease. It’s good to have been a part of a Cumbrian success story, during a time which has been so difficult for the farming community."

For details on partnerships between University and industry, see the feature on the third arm strategy.

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