Whisperwool - acoustic panels made from Tyrolean sheep’s wool
The materials of the future must address today’s problems, such as climate change, energy supply, dwindling resources, and protecting people’s health and the environment.
These considerations were very much at the forefront of our minds when we developed Whisperwool.
Foto: Markus Bstieler
This is Franz. Franz grazes on the meadows high above the Ötztal valley in Tyrol.
These alpine meadows are beautiful - thanks in part to Franz. Franz and his ancestors have been grazing here for hundreds of years. Sheep eat the fast-growing grasses, exposing the ground cover plants and alpine roses to light and providing them with fertiliser. This helps to prevent avalanches and landslides and also encourages diversity in the flora and fauna.
This is why the high alps are so lovely.
We source our wool directly from the Cooperative for Tyrolean Lamb- and Wool Use (Tirol Wool). We know exactly where and which businesses the wool comes from, and how it is shorn and stored. We also know how much, or indeed how little, the farmers get paid for the wool.
10 years ago, they got 50 cents per kilogram. Now, thanks to supplying us, as well as companies such as Salewa or Zanier, farmers are paid up to EUR 2 per kilogram.
Only some wool can be used for clothing. Wool from our region can hardly be used for this purpose, as it is too coarse. Alpine wool can be used to make carpets but is mostly used for insulation.
Every week, we are offered containers of wool from all over Europe, which will be thrown away if we don’t take it. This wool has been collected at least once and it mostly lands on the rubbish tip (although at least then it is recycled).
Wool absorbs formaldehydes from the air in a room. In gaseous form, formaldehydes are toxic and can be carcinogenic in case of prolonged exposure at a high enough level.
Wolle absorbiert Formaldehyde aus der Raumluft. Formaldehyde sind in gasförmige Giftstoffe, bei langer Exposition und hoher Dosis Krebserregend.
Wolle ist gesund
Formaldehyde sind in der Natur allgegenwärtig, sie finden sich sowohl im Menschlichen Körper wie auch in Holz und Lebensmitteln. Es wird aber auh chemisch hergestellt und findet sich aufgrund der desinfizierenden und konservierenden Wirkung in Reinigungsmitteln, Lacken und Bauprodukten. Dadurch ist die Konzentration in Gebäuden oft weit über den Grenzwerten.
Formaldehyde werden von der Wolle absorbiert und chemisch in unbedenkliche Stoffe umgewandelt.
Es wurden schon etliche wissenschaftliche Studien dazu gemacht, sowie etliche Schulen und kontaminierte Gebäude mit dünnen Schafwollvliesen saniert.
Wir messen regelrecht die Formaldehydwerte in den Räumen die mit Whiperwool bestückt sind, und haben immer Werte von 0,00g.
Wool is healthy
Wool absorbs formaldehydes from the air in a room. Formaldehydes are gaseous toxins. They irritate the eyes and mucous membranes. Prolonged exposure at high enough levels can even be carcinogenic.
Formaldehydes are omnipresent in nature: they are found in the human body as well as in wood and foodstuffs. However, they are also produced chemically and are an active ingredient in cleaning products, varnishes and construction materials due to their disinfectant and preservative properties.
This is why the concentration in buildings is often far in excess of safe levels.
Wool absorbs the formaldehydes and breaks them down into harmless substances.
Several scientific studies have been conducted on this and many schools and contaminated buildings have been refurbished with thin tiles made of sheep’s wool.
We regularly measure the levels of formaldehydes in rooms which are fitted with Whisperwool and consistently get readings of 0.00 g/m².
Like wood and natural fibres, wool also adapts to the humidity of the surroundings: it “breathes”. Sheep’s wool can absorb a third of its own weight in water. For a single Whisperwool panel, this would mean a half a kilogram of water.
Besides toxins, air which is too dry is presumed to be one of the main causes of Sick Building Syndrome.
Here is a summary of the studies (some of which contradict each other):
We know wool to cause contact allergies. These are skin irritations which can occur when wearing wool products. We don’t mean those allergies now (although if you do happen to wear Whisperwool, please send pictures!).
We also don’t mean a house dust allergy: this is caused by the faeces of dust mites which, in turn, feed off flakes of discarded human skin.
An allergy to wool does exist, but this also caused by flakes of (sheep’s) skin and the wool fat lanolin and is exceedingly rare.
You can find a study here, which investigates (and rules out) the allergenic potential of wool products in interior rooms. The study states that, if the wool is cleaned appropriately, the products cannot trigger any allergies. Therefore, we wash our wool according to the highest standards.
The top layers
We make the top layers from specially sorted wool from a family business established more than a hundred years ago. The family has carefully built up its wool selection over decades together with agricultural businesses and using special breeds of sheep.
Binding fibres, moth protection
We are trying to technically develop Whisperwool so that you don’t have to dispose of the panels; however, if they are not recycled, then they should be able to be buried in the ground and serve as a fertiliser.
Theoretically, this would be possible - i.e. in a laboratory and as a prototype - but we are still working on the industrial implementation.
Currently, we use PE-fibres as binding fibres.
By using PE-fibres, we can be certain that the panels will remain suitable for upcycling. We shred them (as construction waste, for example) and turn them back into Whisperwool. Our panels are already made of 20% stamping waste and construction waste.
To protect against moths, we use a Greenpeace-approved agent which has been classified as safe. Here, we are also waiting for a better alternative, which has been successfully tested and should be available on the market by the end of 2018.
Up-? Re-? Cycling?
First came the earth, then the grass, then the sheep, which let its fleece grow.
If the fleece grows too long, it is shorn. We wash the fleece and then make it into Whisperwool. The production process does not produce any waste; everything is used.
The cuttings from the mounting procedure are then used to do this:
Copyright EKIZ Völs
or: for bench pads, seat cushions, pinboards,...
Or the cuttings are returned to us and we recycle them back into Whisperwool. This also applies when the panels are removed or if the room/building is demolished. The lifecycle is only affected by mechanical factors. Sheep’s wool does not age. The oldest sheep’s wool rug is approx. 2500 years old.
And, by the way: it also binds CO²!!!
Since Whisperwool is flexible and elastic, the panels don’t break. There is no reason why you can’t mount the panels several times.
Finally, Whisperwool should be able to be buried. Sheep’s wool is a good fertiliser, as it is rich in nitrogen.
(Here, we are still waiting for industry to catch up. The organic-based fibres which would be suitable are not always available and are also very expensive. This is because of the automotive industry, which is the main consumer of these fibres, but which mainly uses the cheaper PE- and PP fibres.)
And then there is the grass...