A new sustainable and plant based material named ‘Vegan Spider Silk’ has been created by researchers at the University Of Cambridge, with the potential to replace many single-use plastics in several consumer products.
The researchers, from the University of Cambridge, created a polymer film by mimicking the properties of spider silk. The new material was created via a new method, where plant proteins are assembled into materials that mimic spider silk on a molecular level. Spider silk is one of the strongest materials in nature, rivaling many common plastics in terms of strength, giving it the potential to replace plastic in many common household products.
Several other benefits of the new material include:
- The creation of the ‘Vegan Spider Silk’ uses an energy efficient method, using sustainable ingredients.
- The material can be made at an industrial scale.
- Colors can be added to the polymer and it can also be used to make water-resistant coatings.
- The material is home compostable.
- It requires no chemical modifications to its natural building blocks, therefore it can safely degrade in most natural environments.
- The material has a performance equivalent to high-performance engineering plastics such as low-density polyethylene.
- No toxic elements are required for the Cambridge-developed technique, unlike most biopolymer films where chemical cross-linking is used (this method can be toxic and is non-sustainable).
The researchers successfully replicated the structures found on spider silk by using soy protein isolate, a protein with a completely different composition.
“Other researchers have been working directly with silk materials as a plastic replacement, but they’re still an animal product,” said Rodriguez Garcia,Head of R&D at Xampla. “In a way, we’ve come up with ‘vegan spider silk’ – we’ve created the same material without the spider.”
The new product will be commercialised by Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out company developing replacements for single-use plastic and microplastics. The company will introduce a range of single-use sachets and capsules later this year, which can replace the plastic used in everyday products like dishwasher tablets and laundry detergent capsules. The results are reported in the journal Nature Communications.