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Plant-Based Material to Replace Plastic

Researchers have created a plant-based, sustainable, scalable material that could replace single-use Plastics in many consumer products. The study was published in a journal communication.The researchers created a polymer film by mimicking the properties of spider silk which is one of the strongest materials in nature. The new material is as strong as many common Plastics in use today and could replace plastic in many common household products.

The material was created using a new strategy for compiling plant proteins into materials that mimic silk on a molecular level. The energy-efficient method, which uses sustainable ingredients, results in a plastic-like free-standing film, which can be made at an industrial scale. Non-fading structural color can be added to the polymer, and it can also be used to make water-resistant coatings.The material is home compostable, whereas other types of bioplastics require industrial composting facilities to degrade. The Cambridge-developed material requires no chemical modifications to its natural building blocks so that it can safely degrade in most natural environments.

The new product will be commercialized by Xampla, a University of Cambridge spin-out company developing replacements for single-use plastic and microplastics. The company will introduce a range of single-use sachets and capsules later this year, which can replace the Plastics used in everyday products like dishwasher tablets and laundry detergent capsules.For many years, Professor Tuomas Knowles in Cambridge’s Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry has been researching the behavior of proteins. Knowles and his group became interested in why materials like spider silk are so strong when they have such weak molecular bonds.

Co-author Dr Marc Rodriguez Garcia, a postdoctoral researcher in Knowles’ group who is now Head of R&D at Xampla, began looking at how to replicate this regular self-assembly in other proteins. Proteins have a propensity for molecular self-organization and self-assembly, and plant proteins, in particular, are abundant and can be sourced sustainably as by-products of the food industry.

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