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‘Vegetarian Spider Web’ is a Sustainable Alternative to Single-Use Plastics



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image: Researchers have created a plant-based, sustainable, scalable material that can replace single-use plastics in many consumer products. over

Credits: Xampla

Researchers have created a plant-based, sustainable, scalable material that can replace single-use plastics in many consumer products.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have created a polymer film by mimicking the properties of spider webs. which is one of the strongest materials in nature. This new material is as strong as with the common plastic used today and can be used instead of plastic in general household products

The material was created using a new method of integrating plant proteins into materials that mimic silk at the molecular level. Energy-saving methods that use sustainable ingredients This results in a free-standing film like plastic. which can be produced on an industrial scale. A non-fading ̵

6;structure’ paint can be added to the polymer. It can also be used to make waterproof coatings as well.

Such materials are self-degradable at home. while other types of bioplastics It requires an industrial compost plant to decompose. Additionally, the Cambridge-developed material does not require chemical modifications to its natural structure. so that they can be safely decomposed in most natural environments.

The new product will be sold by Xampla, a spin-off company from the University of Cambridge that is developing alternatives to single-use plastics and microplastics. The company will launch single-use sachets and capsules later this year. This can replace the plastic used in everyday products such as dishwasher tablets and laundry detergent capsules. Announcing the results in a journal nature communication.

For years Professor Tuomas Knowles in Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry has been researching the behavior of proteins. Most of his research has focused on what happens when proteins go awry or. ‘Failure’ and how does this relate to human health and disease? especially Alzheimer’s disease

“Usually we examine how functional protein interactions help keep us healthy and how abnormal interactions are associated with Alzheimer’s disease,” said Knowles, who led research in the study. the present said “It’s surprising to find that our research can address a big problem in sustainability. That’s the problem of plastic pollution.”

Through their protein research, Knowles and his group became interested in why materials like spiderwebs are so strong with such weak molecular bonds. “We found that one of the key features that make spider webs so strong is that the hydrogen bonds are evenly arranged in space and are very dense,” Knowles said.

Co-author Dr Marc Rodriguez Garcia, a postdoctoral researcher in the Knowles group who now heads research and development at Xampla, began looking for ways to replicate normal self-assembly in other proteins. Molecular and self-assembly And in particular, plant proteins are abundant and can be sustainably supplied as a by-product of the food industry.

“Not much is known about the self-assembly of plant proteins. And it’s exciting to know that filling this knowledge gap. We can find alternatives to single-use plastics,” said PhD candidate Ayaka Kamada, the paper’s first author.

The researchers succeeded in simulating the structures found in spider webs using soy protein isolates. which is a protein with a completely different composition “Because all proteins are made of polypeptide chains, under the right conditions We can make plant proteins combine like spider webs,” Knowles said. “In spiders, silk proteins are dissolved in aqueous solutions. It is made up of extremely strong fibers through a spinning process that uses little energy.”

“Other researchers have worked directly with silk material to replace plastic But they are still animal products,” said Rodriguez Garcia. ‘Vegetarian Spider Web’ – We made the same material without spiders.”

Any replacement for plastic Another polymer is required. There are two types of polysaccharides and polypeptides in nature. Cellulose and nanocellulose are polysaccharides and are used for a variety of applications. But often a cross-linking pattern is required to create a strong material. Proteins are self-assembled and can form strong materials such as silk without any chemical modifications. But they are much more difficult to use.

Researchers used soy protein isolate (SPI) as a test plant protein. Because it is a by-product of soybean oil production. Plant proteins such as SPI are poorly soluble in water. This makes it difficult to control their inclusion in an organized structure.

This new technique uses an environmentally friendly mixture of acetic acid and water combined with ultrasonication. and high temperature To improve the solubility of SPI, the method produces an enhanced intermolecular interaction protein structure guided by the formation of hydrogen bonds. in the second step Solvent will be removed. This results in the film being insoluble.

This material is as effective as high-performance engineering plastics such as low-density polyethylene. Its strength lies in the regular placement of polypeptide chains. This means no chemical crosslinking is required. This is often used to improve the performance and resistance of biopolymer films. The most commonly used crosslinking agents are unsustainable and can be toxic. While Cambridge’s developed techniques do not require the use of toxic constituents.

“This is the culmination of what we have been doing for over ten years. “It’s about understanding how nature makes materials from proteins,” Knowles said. “We are not aiming to solve sustainability challenges. We were inspired by curiosity about how to make strong materials from weak interactions.”

Rodriguez Garcia said: “The major advance here is being able to control self-assembly. So we can create high-performance materials.” “It’s exciting to be a part of this journey. There are many plastic pollution problems in the world. And we are in the fortunate position to be able to do something about it.”

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