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