Spinifex grass from outback Australia could be used to make a nanofibre similar to Kevlar, that could be used to manufacture lightweight electric cars among other uses, under a deal between a Queensland university and an Indigenous community in the state’s north-west.
The University of Queensland and Myuma Dungalunji Aboriginal Corporation have agreed to a partnership that would combine the community’s traditional knowledge of the plant with modern scientific advancements, ABC Rural reports.
Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology have broken down the plant to look at its microscopic “building blocks”.
Professor Darren Martin said experiments revealed the plant had extremely strong microscopic fibres with properties similar to Kevlar, the synthetic material used in body armour to stop bullets.
“What makes spinifex unique is that it’s a super tough plant and it has evolved to survive under incredibly hot conditions, and that has affected the structure,” he said.
“The good news for us engineers is the plant retains water, it has a very open structure and you can break the thing apart very easily into these long nanofibres that have really tough properties and look to be really useful for a whole number of things.”
The University has patents pending on some of the discoveries it has made about the native grass species since 2013.
Professor Martin said the fibres could be used to make plastics and rubbers more durable and create a completely natural carbon fibre product.
“We can take the nanofibres and heat them up to high temperatures and form carbon,” he said.
Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.
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