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Rights: The Royal Society, TVNZ 7 in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation
Published 9 January 2012 Referencing Hub media
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Blasting fish byproduct through a high-speed spinning machine with electrostatic propulsion sounds an unlikely answer to a domestic air filtration problem, but Auckland company Revolution Fibres is doing just that in its bid to transform the field of nanofibre production.

Where traditional electrospinning techniques require thousands of needles to produce a decent amount of fibre, Revolution Fibres’ Sonic Electrospinning Technology™ is an ingenious, needleless system capable of making fibre that is 5000 times thinner than human hair. The company is combining their invention with gifts from nature such as deep-water hoki and sauvignon blanc grapes.

One of the company’s first commercial products is an ultra-sensitive air filter for the home. The modest-sized filter holds 30 kilometres of nanofibre that’s spun from hoki collagen. Hoki collagen has unique properties because of the cold, deep water that the fish calls home. One kilo of the fish byproduct could make fibre that stretches all the way to the Sun.

As for sauvignon blanc grapes, the company is exploring the grapes’ high UV protection properties for use in its fibre mats. Revolution Fibres will soon have a commercial-scale loom with which they’ll be able to produce hundreds of square metres of nanofibre mat in a day. These mats will have multiple uses including wound repair, cosmetic care and skin protection.

Revolution Fibres have achieved all of this through much trial and error, and they figure that, once their nanofibre production is streamlined, they can literally make anything.

Find out more

Find out more about nanotechnology.

Listen to this RNZ audio clip to find out more about how marine collagen in hoki skin has particular properties that can be exploited for electrospinning.

Find out more about producing commercial quantities of nanofibre.

See the Revolution Fibres website.

 

Transcript

VOICEOVER:
They are pretty good to eat but would you wear this fish on your face?
A company in Auckland says you might. And if that doesn’t float your boat, you can stick it in your filter.

VOICEOVER:
A cool young company started by an air filter expert with a couple of mates, is now leading a revolution in fibres.

IAIN HOSEY:
Nanofibres are a very fine fibre, we typically make fibres here, 5000 times thinner that a human hair.

VOICEOVER:
Revolution Fibre’s first commercial product is an ultra sensitive air filter covered with nanofibre.

IAIN HOSEY:
It’s been specifically made for the HRV diffuser, so it’s a nice fit. This plate here covered in about 30 kilometres of fibre, is the first point of contact before the air enters the home.

VOICEOVER:
Their nanofibres are spun from collagen, a natural protein that is dissolved in a harmless solvent. The fluid is then zapped with 40,000 volts causing electro static repulsion. As the molecules repel each other, droplets are stretched to bursting. Liquid jets out at 80 metres a second forming a long strand of fibre that will attract even the smallest dust particle.

IAIN HOSEY:
On the air filter application we think on every one of the filters that we’ve made is 30 kilometres of fibre, but there’s essentially only 3 fibres on there.

VOICEOVER:
Electro spinning started in the ‘30s but this is the first process to use hoki skins, and it’s a by-product.

SIMON FEASEY:
So we are extracting from a part of the fish which is not presently used. It’s a lot to do with the environment that the hoki lives, very cold deep water, producing a certain type of collagen in their skin.

VOICEOVER:
To make the hoki nanofibres, Revolution Fibres start with dried chips of hoki collagen from the science institute Plant and Food Research.

IAIN HOSEY:
One kilo of material will make fibre that would reach the sun. As far as making a fibre out of this collagen, it’s the best in the business.

ALBERT MCGHEE:
Electro spinning around the world is very much on the lab scale where people are using needle-based technology where one needle produces a fraction of a gram per hour. So you need thousands of needles to get anywhere. So ours is a needle-less system, sonic electro-spinning technology is something we’ve been developing for the last 2 years.

VOICEOVER:
With Ministry of Science and Innovation funding Revolution Fibres has just about finished constructing a commercial scale nano loom. Once it starts up they’ll be able to produce hundreds of square metres of nanofibre mat an hour.

IAIN HOSEY:
So research and development machine we’re using our own in-house designed electro-spinning process which we’ve coined sonic electro-spinning technology, and it’s got some very, very good production rates.

SIMON FEASEY:
If we really master the art of making those non woven mats we can literally make anything.

ALBERT MCGHEE:
Everything we do is about innovation. We’re always looking to do things better, try things out, we make mistakes, we break things, we waste money on certain things we realise we shouldn’t have. But that’s all part of R and D.

VOICEOVER:
And out of these brainstorm sessions come the next revolutionary ideas.

IAIN HOSEY:
We have the ability to actually apply additives to the fibres so actually we’ve got functional fibres, fibres that actually do something. So we’ve created fibres which have really good skin rejuvenation properties based on plant extracts that we can put into it.

VOICEOVER:
And to go with your fish, extractive sauvignon blanc grapes?

IAIN HOSEY:
It has very, very high UV protection properties, because it’s in such a harsh environment we can take those chemicals and put them into the fibre and actually bring those UV protection properties of the grape into your skin.

VOICEOVER:
And it doesn’t stop there. Eventually the collagen mats will be available to treat burns, wounds, repair skin and carry cosmetics without the chemicals used in synthetic creams. The revolution has been televised.

Acknowledgements:

This is part of the Innovation Stories series produced in partnership with the Ministry of Science and Innovation, it featured on TVNZ 7 during the Spotlight on Science + Innovation month in August 2011.