Spinifex offers nanofibre potential

How spinifex nanofibres can tap into global latex market

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OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Nanofibres extracted from spinifex can be used to enhance the toughness and flexibility of exceptionally thin latex products

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS: Nanofibres extracted from spinifex can be used to enhance the toughness and flexibility of exceptionally thin latex products

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Nanofibres extracted from spinifex can be used to enhance the toughness and flexibility of exceptionally thin latex products.

Aa

ABORIGINAL communities are said to be the likely beneficiaries of research into the nanofibre potential of one of Australia’s toughest plants. 

Queensland scientists say nanofibres extracted from spinifex can be used to enhance the toughness and flexibility of exceptionally thin latex products including gloves and building materials.

A nanofibre is any fibre measuring less than 1 micron in diameter. One nanometre is equivalent to one billionth of a metre. A typical superfine wool fibre is about 17-18 microns. The average human hair is about 100 microns.

The Queensland Government will invest $480,000 over the next three years to help researchers from The University of Queensland’s (UQ) Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) develop these cutting edge innovations from the hardy outback plant. 

Dr Pratheep Kumar Annamalai has been awarded a mid-career research fellowship worth $300,000 over three years to research ways of increasing the strength and durability of a range of common building and construction materials, such as concrete and bitumen, using spinifex nanofibres.

“In the world of the future, we need to be looking at ways to increase the durability of public infrastructure, such as roads and walkways, as well as provide a hardier range of sustainable products for use in domestic and commercial construction,” Dr Annamalai said.

“Australia’s building and construction industry is worth around $173 billion annually and our feeling is that the unique, low cost, high performance nanofibres extracted from spinifex can address a number of challenges this industry will face in the years ahead.”

Dr Nasim Amiralian has been awarded an early-career research fellowship worth $180,000 over three years.

Dr Amiralian will look at ways of using spinifex nanofibres to create strong, durable and extra thin latex products such as surgical gloves and condoms.

“Despite their microscopic size, we’ve discovered that the spinifex nanofibres have really tough properties making them ideal for adding strength, flexibility and durability to a range of products,” Dr Amiralian said.

“With condoms and surgical gloves, for example, our testing has shown that the thickness of these latex products can be reduced to an ultra-thin dimension without any sacrifice in strength or durability.

“This research has the potential to put Queensland in a very strong position in relation to the $200 billion global rubber market.”

Science Minister Leeanne Enoch said the Advance Queensland Research Fellowships would help the researchers to further develop and commercialise their discoveries.

“We are funding two projects which will use spinifex nanocellulose to create new products and processes with potential for wide application globally in the human health and construction industries,” Ms Enoch said.

“Commercialisation of this research locally could support the creation of a whole new industry in regional Queensland – particularly in Aboriginal communities – around the harvesting and processing of spinifex to extract the nanofibres.

“This in turn could support a whole range of downstream value adding processes to enhance building and construction products, making them stronger and more durable, as well as improve the effectiveness of many latex products.”

Grant recipients are required to work in collaboration with industry to ensure their research is translated into commercial outcomes which directly benefit the community, in the form of new products, services and jobs.

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