Aussie spinifex nanomaterial could create stronger, thinner rubber products

University of Queensland researchers have described a newly-harnessed native nanocellulose as a “holy grail” for rubber products, with commercial potential for things like gloves and condoms.

Phys.org reports that the university’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) has been researching the use of fibres found in spinifex native to north-west Queensland, triodia pungens.

"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 in a statement. Latex containing this nanocellulose had been created on a dipping line in the US and performed strongly.

"On average [we] got a performance increase of 20 per cent in pressure and 40 per cent in volume compared to the commercial latex control sample," Professor Martin said.

"With a little more refinement, we think we can engineer a latex condom that's about 30 per cent thinner, and will still pass all standards.”

Of the tiny fibres, AIBN’s research fellow Dr Nasim Amiralian told the SBS, “These particles are very small, but strong – almost six times stronger than stainless steel.”

The market for latex products is worth many billions of dollars.

The AIBN team is working the local traditional owners of the Camooweal region, the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People.

Dr Amiralian, who identified the nanocellulose during her PhD study, said the project would benefit advanced manufacturing.

“It will also provide job opportunities for Indigenous people in rural Queensland, by developing production plants for harvesting and primary processing of spinifex nanocellulose,” she said.