The Thinnest, Strongest Condoms Will Be Made From Australian Grass

Fibers from Australia's Spinifex grass can be used to make ultra-thin, super-strong rubbers. 

Researchers are convinced they’ve found the thinnest, strongest, most satisfying condom material to date. The main ingredient: Australian Spinifex grass, a native plant that grows in one of the most arid and inhospitable parts of the continent.

Today, a research team from the University of Queensland announced it had secured the intellectual property rights to the application of the knowledge that Spinifex grass can be used to make condoms as thin as human hair.

A representative of the university tells Inverse that specific latex composite and condom publications will be released later this year.

Led by Professor Darren Martin, a team from the university worked with the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu people, the traditional owners of the Camooweal region, to collect and extract nanocellulose from the grass. Traditionally, Spinifex resins were used by Australian indigenous communities as an adhesive, and was particularly useful in attaching spearheads.

Termite mounds surrounded by spinifex grass.

BRJ INC/Flickr

“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,” Martin said in a statement.

Here’s how they created the Spinifex-derived latex: After collecting the grass, it was chopped up and pulped with sodium hydroxide. Then the researchers used mechanical energy to force the material through a very small hole. After that, nano-fibers were peeled from the pulp from the remaining nanocellulose, and added to water-based latex.

Researcher Dr. Nasim Amirlain stretches the latex with a Spinifex nanocellulose additive.

Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, University of Queensland.

The researchers hope their condom, which was able to handle an increase of 40 percent in volume and 20 percent in pressure in comparison to a commercial line of condoms, will contribute to the fight against HIV and AIDS.

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 Colin Saltmere, the managing director of the University’s Aboriginal Environments Research Center.

Latex made with a Spinifex nanocellulose additive is tested for its strength.

Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, The University of Queensland

Apart from condoms, the improved latex could also be applied to the creation of surgical gloves, which researchers anticipate will allow surgeons a more sensitive feel and protect them from physical fatigue during surgery.