New material made of cellulose and silk can replace plastic

A group of researchers from Aalto University and the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland created a new biobased material made from wood pulp fibres and spider silk proteins. The end result is at the same time a strong and expandable material that, according to the press release presenting the research, could also be a replacement for plastic in the future.

Because of its intrinsic properties, the same material can also be used in medical applications, in the textile industry and in the packaging industry. The advantage of such material over plastic is clear: it would be biodegradable and would not damage nature as plastic does.

In order to carry out their experiments, the researchers used birch pulp. They converted this substance into cellulose nanofibrils and then placed it on a kind of hard scaffolding. They then placed a matrix of very soft spider silk. It is not silk of real cobwebs, but still of biological silk, because it is produced in the laboratory with the help of bacteria with synthetic DNA.

In essence, knowing the structure of silk DNA, it can be built almost from scratch. In addition to the qualities of this material, this study shows the new possibilities of protein technology.

As specified by Pezhman Mohammadi, VTT researcher and one of the authors of the study together with Markus Linder: “In the future, we could produce similar compounds with slightly different building blocks and achieve a different set of functions for different applications.” The same researchers are also working on other projects to build their own materials with similar methods.

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