Condoms made with Australian spinifex grass to be ‘as thin as human hair’

The latex condoms do not lose durability despite being 30% thinner than existing products

 

Scientists in Australia believe a spiky native grass can be used to make condoms “as thin as a human hair”.

The condoms, which do not lose any strength despite being 30 per cent thinner than existing products, were made in the state of Queensland using fibres from the spinifex plant.

The fibres were separated to extract a type of nanocellulose, which was added during the manufacture of latex and found to make a “significantly improved” form of rubber.

“We can make a stronger and thinner membrane that is supple and flexible, which is the holy grail for natural rubber,” said Professor Darren Martin, from the University of Queensland.

“(We) got a performance increase of 20 per cent in pressure and 40 per cent in volume compared to the commercial latex control sample. 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, and with more process optimisation work we will be able to make devices even thinner than this.”

He said the first commercial dipping run achieved a thickness of 45 microns, “which is around the width of the hair on your head”.

“Companies would be looking to market the thinnest, most satisfying prophylactic possible,” he said.

The researchers believe the thinner rubber would encourage condom use and could help to combat the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted diseases.

Martin said the new form of latex could also be used to make thinner gloves, which could assist surgeons.

“It would 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,” he said.

“Because you would also use less latex, your material cost in production would potentially drop as well, making it even more attractive to manufacturers.”

The team worked with the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People, the traditional owners of the Camooweal region in northwest Queensland, and have signed an agreement to recognise local Aboriginal traditional owners’ knowledge about the spinifex.

Spinifex resins have long been used by Aboriginal communities to attach spear heads to wooden shafts.

According to the university, the agreement will also ensure the Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation (DAC) will have ongoing equity and involvement in the commercialisation of this technology.

A production plant is due to begin operating in Queensland later this year.

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