Not Just Hot Air
Nate Alder was scuba diving off the coast of Brazil when the idea struck him. It was 2006, and he was spending his summer break from Brigham Young University backpacking around the country and working on his advanced scuba certification. During one of the scuba seminars, he learned about how divers in cold climates pump argon gas into their dry suits for insulation. As a former snowboard instructor, he wondered if argon could be used to warm skiers and snowboarders too.
He returned to college, still with no declared major and no knowledge of chemistry but intent on exploring the possibilities of using the gas as an insulator. "I didn't even know if argon was flammable or toxic," jokes Alder, now 28. When his research revealed that argon is actually inert and used to extinguish fires in computer labs, he knew he was onto something. He began recruiting BYU business and engineering students and quickly assembled a crack team to flesh out argon-based outerwear that would enable wearers to adjust warmth by simply inflating or deflating a vest.
The group wrote a business plan and entered a BYU competition. "Our first prototype was basically a plastic pillow filled up with the gas," Alder recalls. Although their idea was unprecedented—no one had ever tried trapping argon for use in cold-weather gear—they finished a somewhat disappointing fifth place and decided to disband. But Alder remained committed, perhaps even obsessed. Even though his engineering colleagues had estimated that it would cost $75,000 to create a working prototype, he doggedly combed through the Internet and various trade shows to find cheap usable parts, eventually cobbling together a prototype out of a home wine-preservation system, a bicycle pump, medical-grade IV valves and a pair of Reebok Pump basketball shoes for a mere $100.
"Lo and behold, it just happened to work," Alder says. The team re-formed, dubbed the technology Klymit NobleTek Insulation, and had it independently tested. The researchers found that the argon vest bested both down- and synthetic-insulated vests in measures of warmth-to-weight, warmth-to-thickness and warmth when wet. "The potential of argon just blows anything else away," Alder says. Five approved patent applications later, the group is working with the world's largest airbag manufacturer to build Klymit's four argon-equipped vests and a camping pad. Several other major outdoor-apparel makers are also considering licensing Klymit-equipped products.
Now that his company is successful, Alder is glad he saw his vision through to completion. "What gets me excited isn't money or fame, it's creating new solutions," he says. "That's where my niche is: looking at something in a different way." —Mark Anders
Read more on Alder's Klymit NobleTek Gas Insulation clothing here
Wow! I'll have to buy one of these if I ever move to Alaska.
he didnt really look at something in a different way. he just said "i take scuba idea and apply it to other cold activities".
either way, good for him.
Could this be a secondary system for space suits?
But the most difficult part is to turn an idea into a product, or even a prototype.
Good luck to Nate!
I like the idea, but I read somewhere else that you need canisters of Argon to refill the vest/camping pad (obviously). This adds a lot of complications to owning a vest. When I buy something to keep me warm, I dont want it to only work when I have something to fill it with... How much are the canisters going to cost? How many vest fills can you get from one canister? Are they going to be widely available in rural places that you would expect to go skiing/snowboarding? I think they should work on a vest that doesn't need to be refilled as well as these ones.
On that note, I'm impressed that he got his first prototype from off-the-shelf equipment for only $100. That couldn't have been easy to figure out.
This article has a lot of theory but where are the numbers proving that Argon actually helps insulation?
I am a cold water scuba diver and know people that use Ar in their suits. However, most admit that they can't tell the difference in temperature, but they just continue using the Ar because of the initial costs involved so they ant to believe it works.
Not breathable. Probable not very usefull for strenuous outdoor activities. I would also hesitate to rely on the vales/canisters/pumps in critical situations. They'll find some niche uses, but far from revolutionary.