Sector pins hopes on golden fleece

TIM CRONSHAW
Last updated 12:12 15/02/2013
Professor Jim Johnston and Dr Kerstin Lucas
ALL THAT GLITTERS: Wealthy buyers are the focus for a golden fleece developed by Professor Jim Johnston and Dr Kerstin Lucas of Victoria University.

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A golden yarn developed by Kiwi scientists and containing pure gold is expected to be sold to wealthy buyers of luxury carpets, rugs and furnishings.

Unlike the golden fleece in Greek mythology the yarn and completed woollen products will not have a golden colour at this stage.

The Aulana-branded wool has been developed by Professor Jim Johnston and Dr Kerstin Lucas of Victoria University after $3 million of research and development.

A tiny amount of pure gold is combined with wool and the chemistry between the two causes it to bond and produce the colours of purple, grey and blue.

The range is expected to be extended and include a golden hue later.

Another development by the business partners is NgaPure, an antimicrobial wool using silver.

Their company, Noble Bond Ltd, is working with Wools of New Zealand (WNZ) to commercialise the technology in high value markets such as Europe and the United States.

Johnston said he came from a farm and his concern about the declining wool prices had led him to develop the idea with Lucas to add value to yarn.

He said the gold was in low concentrations to prevent it from becoming overly expensive.

''I had the bright idea we could combine the chemistry of gold, which is a high value and premium product associated with wealth and prestige, with New Zealand wool fibre to look at adding value for the high end market.''

Johnston said the protected technique was unique, but the idea was centuries old. Certain metals, including gold, exhibit different colours  depending on the particle size and shape.

Johnston is the professor of chemistry at Victoria University with a strong interest in industrial chemistry, material science and nano technology.

He began the project with Lucas in 2006 and teamed two years later with WNZ, which introduced them to manufacturing customers, particularly in Britain.

Wellington business development company, Creative HQ, holds a minority stake in Noble Bond.

An agreement with WNZ has been signed to commercialise, market and guide the two products through the supply chain.

WNZ is at the clinch stage of a share offer to raise $5 million among farmers and commercialise it into a sales and marketing company with an extended deadline on February 25.

Johnston said Noble Bond was seeking further investment from partners to commercialise the idea and opportunities existed for WNZ to become a shareholder when taking it to the commercial stage.

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WNZ introduced the owners to manufacturers servicing London's Saville Row and upholsterers of large transport operations and airlines.

The gold wool market is expected to be in luxury carpets and rugs, apparel, and fabrics and fine furnishings.

Johnston said initial sales interest had been positive for the gold and silver wool products.

The anti-microbial properties of the silver wool product, NgaPure, is expected to find a market in carpets and furnishings for schools, kindergartens, hospitals and for large scale commuter transport operators.

Silver is effective against 600 microbes.

Large UK upholstery company Camira has signed an agreement with Noble Bond and has tested the silver technology in a range of fabrics, yarns and carpets.

- The Press

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