Researchers from Australia are currently working on a native grass ingredient that could be the key to developing stronger condoms that are as thin as human hair.
Fibers from the native spinifex grass will be studied by scientists from the University of Queensland in partnership with traditional owners of the Camooweal region in Northwest Queensland. The team of experts will use a specific method to extract nanocellulose from the grass.
"The great thing about our nanocellulose is that it's a flexible nano-additive," said Queensland Professor Darren Martin. "We can make a stronger and thinner membrane that is supple and flexible, which is the holy grail for natural rubber."
Martin and his colleagues tested their latex formulation on a commercial dipping line in the United States. They also performed burst tests where condoms are inflated while measuring pressure and volume.
On average, the team got an increase of 40 percent in volume and 20 percent in pressure, when compared to the commercial latex control sample, Martin said.
By improving and refining the latex, Martin believes they can engineer a condom that is about 30 percent thinner than usual commercial condoms. The super-thin condom will still be able to pass standards, he said.
Last year, Martin said they were able to get down to 45 microns on their very first test. This is around the same width of a strand of human hair.
The benefits of nanocellulose would interest manufacturers of latex across the multi-billion-dollar industry, Martin said. Instead of increasing the strength of latex, most companies would be searching to market the most satisfying and thinnest one possible.
But their nanocellulose technology doesn't have to compromise the strength. Martin said it is possible to create thin latex that is just as strong. This will give less hand fatigue to users such as surgeons. Additionally, the material would also cost less, making it more attractive to manufacturers.
For a long time, spinifex resins have been used as efficient adhesives by indigenous groups in the country. It is traditionally used for bonding spear heads to wooden shafts.
The findings of the study have the potential to make a difference in the fight against sexually-transmitted diseases, researchers said.