Australian Alpaca fleece comes in from the cold … really
This article first
appeared in Alpacas Australia Magazine
Issue 44 (Winter 2004) and with the permission of the AAA please
read this sensational story:
by Michael van den Bos
McGregors International, NSW
With the cold tentacles of winter taking a firm grasp of the
seasonal merry-go-round, it is time once again to pull out the
jumpers from the bottom draw. To make sure you stay extra warm this
winter, Australian Alpaca could be just the ticket, as new ways of
exploiting the qualities inherent in the fleece are continually
being developed – including ensuring survival in one of the world’s
Initially considered impossible, an Australian drilling company
faced the challenge of insulating emergency communication equipment
that would continue to work in temperatures that drop to minus
60°C; the solution was alpaca fleece.
Major Drilling, a diamond core drilling company, needed a
reliable means of providing emergency communication to employees
that would withstand the harsh conditions of the Mongolian
Tony Brennan, Logistics Manager, Major Drilling, outlines just
what they are up against. “We operate drill rigs in
harsh and isolated environments where emergency navigational and
communication equipment is priceless,” he said.
“Our first reaction was that someone would have already
developed a solution that would meet our needs. However, there was
nothing remotely suitable on the market so sourcing components and
materials was a very demanding process, especially when the
required products were non-existent and had to be developed from
An Emergency Equipment Electronic Support System (EEESS) was
conceived and developed by George Meyer of RJM AutoElectrics in
Mount Isa, ironically one of the hottest places in Australia.
The EEESS is a sealed and controlled environment containing a
satellite telephone, Global Positioning System (GPS) and an
Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon (EPIRB). The use of
alpaca fleece as insulation made the system unique and able to
operate in conditions where other equipment had failed.
Meyer, who has extensive experience and knowledge of arctic
conditions and materials suitable for use in extreme environments,
explained that the thermal qualities of the insulation material
were the biggest concern. It also needed to be transportable and be
able to take punishment that modern insulating foams would not be
able to handle.
“Our solution was to use alpaca fleece to insulate the emergency
communication equipment as the fibre is lightweight, robust and has
tremendous thermal qualities. There is only one other natural
material that rivals alpaca fleece for its warmth, but it is very
hard to get hold of, polar bear fur,” said Mr Meyer.
The self-contained unit, which houses a small heater but has no
power supply, was tested at minus 60°C. The system maintained a
temperature of plus 16°C, a remarkable 76°C difference.
“There is nothing like this product in the world and we now have
both Australian and New Zealand arctic teams looking at using the
system. Previously, arctic teams’ navigational and communication
systems would stop operating when temperatures hit minus 20°C,”
said Mr Brennan.
Queensland based textile designer, Ana Pantelic LDAD, was
responsible for producing the alpaca fleece blankets that were used
to insulate the EEESS.
“Alpaca fleece is great to work with, from developing highly
thermal material to creating luxury suits and garments,” said Ms
Pantelic. “The fleece has partially hollow fibres, providing
excellent insulating properties whilst remaining lightweight,
making it perfect for the job”.
As pure alpaca fleece was required for the insulation of the
EEESS, the fibre was hand spun. A lofty yarn was produced to
maximize the entrapment of air and it was woven in a way so that it
packed in very closely to create a very thick blanket.
“The last thing we did was wash the blanket so it filled out,
and as it doesn’t have scales like wool, it didn’t shrink. After a
quick moth proofing, the end result was an amazing fabric and a
much needed product,” she said.
From the Gobi Desert to premier catwalks, Australian Alpaca
fleece is enjoying increasing demand and acceptance both in
Australia and overseas. In Australia, large department stores such
as David Jones have increased their orders from last season and
Australian Alpaca products will also be exported to China, South
Korea and the UK.
So next time you feel as if you are being shrouded by the cold
cloak of winter, or if you happen to be on top of a drill mast
during a Mongolian winter, reach for the alpaca jumper or attempt
to shear a polar bear – the choice is yours.