Australia’s $100 plastic banknote

Australia’s $100 plastic banknote.

The world’s first polymer banknote

The CSIRO helped develop the world’s first polymer banknote, creating the most secure currency in the world.

  • 3 October 2007 | Updated 14 October 2011

For hundreds of years, banknotes have been made from rag-based paper. Today, banknote issuers are faced with the challenge of increasingly sophisticated counterfeiting techniques and there are serious doubts that paper remains a viable material for secure banknotes.
With this in mind CSIRO and Note Printing Australia Limited, a subsidiary of the Reserve Bank of Australia, set out to improve the security and durability of Australia’s currency.

What CSIRO did

CSIRO’s expertise in polymer and synthetic chemistry was used to develop a non-fibrous and non-porous plastic film, which the banknotes are printed on. This substrate gives high tear initiation resistance, good fold characteristics and a longer lifetime than paper.

The substrate and the specially-developed protective overcoat prevent the absorption of moisture, sweat and grime so that the polymer banknotes stay cleaner.

CSIRO has also developed a variety of overt and covert security features for use on polymer banknotes. These security features are produced from a combination of spectroscopic techniques, synthetic chemistry, nanotechnology, surface science microstructure manipulation and polymer chemistry.

First circulated in Australia in 1988, polymer banknotes are now used in 22 countries.

The outcomes

The result is the world’s first non-fibrous polymer banknote. As well as being more secure, the banknote is four times more durable than rag paper notes.

Polymer banknotes are also in use overseas either as commemorative or circulating notes.

Currently there are over thirty different denominations totalling some 3 billion polymer notes in service in 22 countries worldwide. 

In addition, a press-ready polymer substrate (Guardian™) is available for countries with their own note printing facilities.

Guardian™ is produced by Securency Pty Ltd, a joint venture between the Reserve Bank of Australia and Innovia Films PLC, a European-based manufacturer of polypropylene films.

'Irrespective of your industry, counterfeiters are the fiercest competitors a business will ever face,' says Dr Gerry Wilson of CSIRO Molecular and Health Technologies Division. 'The challenge is to keep one or more steps ahead of them.'

Having dramatically slashed the rate of counterfeiting in Australia, CSIRO is using the skills and networks gained during the development of the polymer banknote in the fight against identity theft and counterfeit pharmaceuticals.

About our researchers

The researchers involved in this project were:

  • Dr Gerry Wilson, CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering
  • Dr Albert Mau, CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering
  • Prof. David Solomon, CSIRO Materials Science and Engineering (retired).

Learn more about CSIRO's work in Plastics & Polymers.