Expanding spinifex success

Traditionally used by Indigenous Australians for building materials, household goods and weapons, spinifex grass, a sacred symbol of resilience which embodies significant Indigenous traditional knowledge, has recently revealed exciting possibilities at the nano-scale.

Working in collaboration with the Dugalunji Aboriginal Corporation, UQ researcher Professor Darren Martin and his team at the Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) have discovered that the arid Australian grass is a unique source of flexible cellulose nanofibres (CNF) of very high yield, tensile strength and toughness.

“This makes it ideal for creating high-value medical gels; stronger recycled paper, cement, mortars and grouts; and stronger and thinner rubber products such as latex gloves and condoms,” Professor Martin says.

“We see great potential in an emerging global nanocellulose market for producing high-quality biomaterial that will reduce waste and CO₂ emissions, and also boost jobs in remote Indigenous communities.”

Professor Martin’s team relied heavily on two UQ infrastructure units, Australian National Fabrication Facility – Queensland and the Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, to characterise the obtained nanocellulose and a myriad of nanocellulose-reinforced composite systems, as well as to progress basic research. The Spinifex Pilot Facility at Long Pocket now houses specialty equipment for spinifex washing, drying, grinding, pulping and refining into several nanocellulose grades.

Infrastructure Capabilities
Australian National Fabrication Facility–Queensland Characterising CNF and composites (Atomic Force Microscopy), measuring flow properties of latex and medical gels (rheometers), measuring viscoelastic properties of composites (Dynamic Mechanical Analyser), ascertaining trace impurities for medical gels (HPLC and LCMS).
Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis Preparing thin sections for electron microscopy (Ultra Cryomicrotomy), obtaining statistical morphological measurements of CNF measure strength, obtaining contrast and high-resolution structure of CNF-reinforced composites (paper, cement, rubber and gels) – SEM, CryoSEM, CryoTEM, XRD, XPS, SAXS and Raman.