So first of all … no, nobody is thinking of weaving together blades of grass to make condoms. Scientists at Australia's University of Queensland, however, are having success with condoms made from a latex with added nanocellulose obtained from a native grass. Not only are they stronger than regular latex condoms, but they could be as thin as the diameter of a human hair.
Working with the aboriginal Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People in the Camooweal region in north-west Queensland, the researchers started by harvesting spinifex grass. That grass was then chopped into a pulp, mixed with sodium hydroxide, then forced through a small opening at high pressure. This effectively peeled the nanocellulose from the pulp, leaving the highly-flexible fibers suspended in water.
When added to natural latex, the nanocellulose fibers produced extra-strong yet thin condoms. In conventional "burst tests," they were able to handle 20 percent more pressure than regular condoms, and hold 40 percent more volume.
"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 optimization work we will be able to make devices even thinner than this," says U Queensland's Prof. Darren Martin. "Late last year we were able to get down to about 45 microns on our very first commercial dipping run, which is around the width of the hair on your head.
Along with offering increased sensitivity, the condoms could also be manufactured using less material, thus lowering their cost. Both factors could lead to more people opting to use them, helping in the fight against sexually-transmitted diseases.