Lab+Life Scientist Mar 2016

Page 40


AIBN’s Dr Nasim Amiralian. ©The University of Queensland

Adam Florance

Spinifex condoms — thinner than a human hair

The secret to the world’s thinnest, strongest latex condoms and surgical gloves may lie in the resin from spinifex grass, which the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu people of the Camooweal region in north-west Queensland have long used to attach spearheads to their wooden shafts.


manufactured with the new spinifex nanocellulose

“We’re very excited by the prospects of

additive averaged a performance increase of 40%

commercialising the technology to provide an entirely

in volume and 20% in pressure.

new industry to regional Australia,” Saltmere said.

Professor Martin believes that with further

The processing of spinifex into nanocellulose is

team from The University of

refinement, the spinifex latex can be made up to

relatively straightforward, according to AIBN’s Dr

Queensland’s Australian Institute for

30% thinner than the 45 microns achieved during

Nasim Amiralian. The spinifex is hedged, chopped

Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) has

its first commercial dipping run, which is about the

and pulped with sodium hydroxide, similar to paper

developed a way to extract nanocellulose from

width of a human hair.

pulp. It is then forced through a very small hole under

spinifex. This significantly improves the physical

The global latex market is worth billions

mechanical pressure, which peels the nanofibres away

properties of water-based rubber latex, resulting

annually and this new technology could be a boon

from the pulp and results in nanocellulose suspended

in surgical gloves and condoms that are as thin as

for Indigenous communities in far-flung areas

in water. At this stage, it is ready to add to water-based

a human hair.

where the native grass grows.

rubber latex.

Professor Darren Martin describes the super-

UniQuest, the commercialisation company of

UQ Vice-Chancellor and President Professor

thin yet strong and supple result as the “Holy Grail

UQ, has signed an agreement with the Dugalunji

Peter Høj said the spinifex nanocellulose project

for natural rubber”. The spinifex nanocellulose

Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) recognising the

is a prime example of the UQ research philosophy

is a flexible nano-additive that makes a stronger,

contribution of the traditional owners’ knowledge

to create tangible solutions effecting positive

thinner membrane that retains flexibility and has

in this development and ensuring an ongoing role in

change, engineering next-generation products while

so far outperformed traditional latex condoms in

the new business. It is hoped that spinifex harvesting

generating funding for future innovation.

key volume and pressure tests.

and processing will provide future opportunities

“This completes the laboratory-to-market life

Condom producers perform burst tests

for the Indigenous population across the remote

cycle that can deliver benefits to millions, taking

on production samples that inflate condoms

areas where spinifex thrives, according to DAC

excellence to what we call Excellence Plus, and through

while measuring volume and pressure. Latex

Managing Director Colin Saltmere.

that we aim to create change,” Professor Høj said.

40 | LAB+LIFE SCIENTIST - March 2016 |