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Gold and silver add value to wool fabrics

Last updated 23:25 16/02/2013

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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 Jim Johnston and 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, is working with Wools of New Zealand 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 declining wool prices had led to him developing the idea with Lucas to add value to yarn.

The gold was in low concentrations to prevent the yarn becoming overly expensive, he said.

"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 professor of chemistry at Victoria University with a strong interest in industrial chemistry, material science and nanotechnology.

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

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.

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