engineering careers  Could a mix of wood fibre and spider silk rival plastic?
engineering careers  Could a mix of wood fibre and spider silk rival plastic?

A new though, flexible, and biodegradable material, made with wood glucose and spider silk, could be the next breakthrough in material science.

Developed by scientists from Aalto University and the VTT VTT Technical Research Center of Finland the new material looks set to hit the sweet spot of strength and flexibility which is needed to challenge plastic.

The hybrid material mixes wood glucose and artificial spider’s silk giving it both material strength and extensibility. This means the material can be stretched out.

Up to now, similar materials have traded off between these two properties. Something like steel, which is very strong, is not nearly as extensible as weaker rubber.

The material is made by gluing wood cellulose fibers together with silk protein that is found within spider web.

Pezhman Mohammadi, a research scientist at VTT explained that by using “birch tree pulp” the team could break “it down to cellulose nanofibrils, and aligned them into a stiff scaffold [while] at the same time infiltrat[ing] the cellulosic network with a soft and energy dissipating spider silk adhesive matrix.”

The result. A and resilient material that could be used to replace plastic in industries from bio-based composites to medical applications.

The team did point out that while the silk used is identical to spider secretes they did not use any animals in the process at all. Instead of relying on gene-edited bacteria which can produce the same material.

Not only does the material have a wide variety of uses but it is also biodegradable. This means that if it was to replace plastics it could greatly dimish the damage done by plastic and microplastic waste.

The next step for the team is to recreate it at scale to build large objects. While consumer products will be some years off the work illustrates the new and versatile possibilities for protein engineering.