Working with remote Indigenous communities to process native spinifex grass into diverse commercial applications

Indigenous Australians have collected spinifex grass – an ancient and sacred material - for thousands of years to build shelters, make beds, and as a glue for making instruments like spears, woomeras and water-vessels. The oils and waxes from the grass are also used to treat wounds and in other medicines.

In the hot, red sandy fields in north-west Queensland, Indigenous knowledge of this ancient craft and sustainable farming methods is meeting cutting-edge science.

Working in partnership with the Indjalandji-Dhidhanu People, AIBN’s scientists have developed methods of extracting nanofibres from spinifex, which they found significantly improves the physical properties of different plastics, and paper – without any loss in flexibility.

The nanofibres extracted are long, thin and stretchy – only a few nanometres wide (one-billionth of a metre) but thousands of nanometres in length. The benefits of this sustainable nanofibre technology is not only of interest to global plastic composite manufacturers, but it could also revolutionise material science across multiple industries. Work is underway to add spinifex nanofibres into a range of different plastics and also construction materials.

AIBN and Bulugudu Limited have signed an agreement to recognise local Aboriginal traditional owners’ knowledge of spinifex and to ensure they will have ongoing equity and involvement in the commercialisation of the nanofibre technology. While there are significant economic benefits in commercialising this technology, it will also enhance employment opportunities in remote regions.

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