Spiky Australian spinifex grass could be the key to thinner condoms

Mark Kolbe/Getty Images

Condoms as thin as a human hair could be made using fibres from Australia’s spinifex grass.

Resin from spinifex was traditionally used by indigenous communities to attach spear heads to wooden shafts.

Researchers from the University of Queensland worked with traditional owners of the Camooweal region in north-west Queensland, the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People, to develop a method of extracting nanocellulose –- which can be used as an additive in latex production –- from the grass.

“The great thing about our nanocellulose is that it’s a flexible nano-additive, so we can make a stronger and thinner membrane that is supple and flexible, which is the holy grail for natural rubber,” says Darren Martin from the university’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology.

The new latex recipe was tested in the US. A burst test on average got a performance increase of 20% in pressure and 40% in volume compared to standard commercial latex.

“With a little more refinement, we think we can engineer a latex condom that’s about 30% thinner, and will still pass all standards, and with more process optimisation work we will be able to make devices even thinner than this,” says Professor Martin.

The university and the Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation have signed an agreement to recognise local traditional owner knowledge about spinifex and to ensure they will have equity and involvement in the commercialisation of the technology.

Corporation managing director Colin Saltmere says there are strong hopes of cultivating and processing spinifex grass, bringing economic opportunities to remote areas across Australia.

“We’re very excited by the prospects of commercialising the technology to provide an entirely new industry to regional Australia,” he says.

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