The New Plastic

Image Source: Pixabay

Maxine Louie
Office Manager

As global warming becomes an increasing concern in our society, scientists scramble for new innovations to promote sustainability and reduce waste. One of the most important recurring issues is that of single use plastic.

One of the biggest challenges of material engineering was to increase the strength of a material without compromising the extensibility and vice versa. A research team in Finland, a collaboration with Pezhman Mohammadi, a research scientist from VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, and Markus Linder, a professor from Aalto University, have accomplished the feat of making a material both high in strength, stiffness and increased toughness.

Using biomimicry, referring to nature and taking different aspects of it to fix human problems, they created a material made with wood cellulose fibres (broken down birch tree pulp) and silk proteins, called spider web threads. These materials are found in nature, so this means that they are biodegradable and do not damage nature the way plastic does.

This bio-based material is made from easily available cellulose. Although the silk protein is inspired by silkworms and spider web threads, it is produced by the researchers using synthetic DNA inserted into bacteria.The cellulose is firm and the silk is both tough and flexible, leading to an ideal competitor to plastic, either in bio-based composites or in medical applications, surgical fibres, textiles industry and packaging.

Their work can lead to new and diverse possibilities in protein engineering. There is potential to manufacture other composites with different characteristics for a variety of applications. This Finnish team are currently working on making new composite materials to be implants, impact resistance objects and more.

Originally Published in Bandersnatch Vol.49 Issue 07 on December 4th, 2019