Combining wood fibres and spider silk, researchers from Aalto University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland have developed a new bio-based material that could replace plastic in the future. The research has been conducted as part of HYBER, the Academy of Finland’s Centre of Excellence in Molecular Engineering of Biosynthetic Hybrid Materials.
The firm and resilient material is made by gluing together wood cellulose fibres and silk protein. Unlike plastic, both these materials are biodegradable and do not damage nature in the same way as microplastic, according to Aalto University Professor Markus Linder, who led the research team. The spider web silk used in the research is produced by using bacteria with synthetic DNA, creating silk protein molecules that are chemically similar to those found in spider web threads.
“Nature offers great ingredients for developing new materials, such as the firm and easily available cellulose and tough and flexible silk used in this research. Our researchers just need to be able to reproduce these natural properties,” says Linder in a statement.
Combining high strength, stiffness and increased toughness, the new material could be used as part of bio-based composites and in medical applications, surgical fibres, the textile industry and packaging. According to the researchers, it outperforms most of today’s synthetic and natural materials.
“We used birch tree pulp, broke it down to cellulose nanofibrils and aligned them into a stiff scaffold. At the same time, we infiltrated the cellulosic network with a soft and energy dissipating spider silk adhesive matrix,” explains Research Scientist Pezhman Mohammadi, VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, in a statement.
“Our work illustrates the new and versatile possibilities of protein engineering. In future, we could manufacture similar composites with slightly different building blocks and achieve a different set of characteristics for other applications. Currently, we are working on making new composite materials as implants, impact resistance objects and other products.”
Anything currently made from oil can in the future be made from renewable biomass such as wood, according to Jari Tielinen, Head of Bio & Circular, Invest in Finland.
“Today, Finland offers a unique platform for any bio-based research, development and partnering. We have a strong, rapidly developing industry cluster, world-leading research and technology competence, strong public support, abundant feedstock reserves as well as a billion-euro pipeline of new projects under development,” he says. “Discover out how to kick-start your operations here by contacting Invest in Finland.”