A new spider silk material introduced by researchers at Aalto University and VTT could potentially rival plastic in terms of durability and usability in the future. the best part? It’s apparently completely natural.
The new material was made by combining wood cellulose fibers of the birth tree pulp and the silk protein usually found in spider webs. The resulting material both had the firmness and resilience that allows it to basically replace plastic, or at least to become its more bio-based counterpart.
Conceptually, a more natural version of plastic that retains all of its qualities would be a great material for many different applications. Surgical fibers are the first to come in mind, although regular textiles could also become its next standard use. Since it’s natural, it is also essentially biodegradable, leaving a very little effect on the environment even when disposed of in large quantities.
The development of a nature-based replacement to plastic does indeed prove that there are materials in nature that could mimic our industrial materials if we are just diligent enough to find one, or to craft the right combination. However, this rolls over to the next problem of production. Sometimes, even if we do find the right substitute material, we are unable to produce it in sufficient amounts that could satisfy the huge demand of the original.
The components of this new synthetic spider silk material are made from two easily producible materials — one is made from a relatively common type of wood, and the other is actually an alternative variant produced by bacteria. This brings the hope that this new material may indeed have not just the intrinsic properties to beat plastic, but also have the mass production potential to render plastic obsolete. Especially in many applications where its disposal usually becomes an environmental problem.
As for the researchers, the knowledge of being able to synthesize material like this alone is enough to provide them with even more inspiration to search for even newer composite materials that are just waiting to be discovered.