London – UK’s Cranfield University researchers, in partnership with Malaysia-based surgical gloves manufacturer Meditech Gloves, have developed a new latex formulation that can overcome the issue of skin allergies in rubber gloves while making their production more efficient.
As part of the project, natural rubber (NR) latex has been modified to “deactivate” naturally occurring proteins that cause skin allergies, said the university in a 19 Nov announcement.
The new formulation, therefore, reintroduces biodegradable and sustainable raw latex “on a mass scale,” to the gloves industry, it added.
In addition, the university’s initial research found that time and energy savings of up to 50% can be achieved in a revised manufacturing process.
According to Cranfield, in existing production processes a mannequin hand is used as a mould, dipped into a bath of natural latex rubber mixed with water which coats the ‘hand’ to produce the glove.
The process, however, involves significant wastage of both raw materials and energy during the dipping method, the drying and curing procedure and in the energy required to support the multi-storey plant.
The new protein-free formulation makes the process of glove manufacture “faster and more energy efficient,” according to Krzysztof Koziol, professor of composites Engineering and head of enhanced composites and structures centre at Cranfield University.
“The results from this research are just the beginning of this journey to improve sustainability, biodegradability and reduce production time,” he said without offering further explanation on the manufacturing process.
According to Koziol, the planting of more rubber trees will also help achieve a net zero carbon effect within the industry as the trees absorb CO2 during their life.
In the next phase, Cranfield aims to investigate how the natural latex raw material can be modified to enhance the biodegradability of natural rubber gloves.
During the project, Cranfield PhD students had regular access to the Meditech Gloves plant in Malaysia for rapid real-world testing of laboratory findings.
Based in Negeri Sembilan, western Malaysia, Meditech Gloves describes itself as a "recent entrant" in the gloves market.
The gloves manufacturer has doubled production capacity in recent months in response to a surge in demand, and is looking to increase the sustainability of its products through the partnership.
“We are aiming to become a leader in the sustainable production of degradable, protein-free, natural rubber gloves, [while] contributing to the reduction of CO2,” said Dr Effendi Tenang, president, Meditech Gloves.
According to Cranfield, currently, over 80 million gloves are needed by Covid-19 health response teams each month.
The global medical gloves market is predicted to be worth $70 billion by 2027 (€59 billion).