Fibres from the Australian native spinifex grass are being used to improve latex that could be used to make condoms as thin as a human hair without any loss in strength.
Working in partnership with Aboriginal traditional owners of the Camooweal region the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People, researchers from The University of Queensland have developed 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," Professor Darren Martin said.
"We tested our latex formulation on a commercial dipping line in the United States and conducted a burst test that inflates condoms and measures the volume and pressure, and on average got a performance increase of 20 per cent in pressure and 40 per cent in volume compared to the commercial latex control sample," he said and continued "Likewise, it would also be possible to produce latex gloves that are just as strong, but thinner, giving a more sensitive feel and less hand fatigue to users such as surgeons. Because you would also use less latex, your material cost in production would potentially drop as well, making it even more attractive to manufacturers."
They also predict that the inevitable manufacturing of the condom will bring a new and needed industry to the regions of Australia where the native grass grows. "There are strong hopes of cultivating and processing spinifex grass on a commercial scale, bringing economic opportunities to the remote areas across Australia where it thrives," said Managing Director Colin Saltmere from Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation.
They think they can engineer a latex condom that's about 30 per cent thinner, and will still pass all standards, and with more process optimisation work we will be able to make devices even thinner than this. Like it? We do.