A team of scientists at MIT and experts from other parts of the world developed a silk-based product that could replace industrial microplastics. The product is inexpensive and easy to manufacture, yet safe for consumption and biodegradable.
In a paper published in the journal Small, the research was led by MIT postdoc Muchun Liu, Benedetto Marelli, a MIT professor of civil and environmental engineering and five other experts from BASF chemical company.
Microplastics have become health, climate and ecosystem menace. They have so far been found in all water bodies, mountains and in the bloodstreams of animals and people. Given that they are non-biodegradable and harmful, efforts are being made to phase them out.
Industrially microplastics are used in the manufacture of some foods, paints and other products that are required to last long. The E.U. declared that such non-biodegradable microplastics must be eliminated by 2025.
As a result, silk provides an alternative that could replace microplastics in industrial products. The silk fibers made can simply be dissolved using scalable water making it a simple product to use industrially.
“To encapsulate different materials, we have to study how the polymer chains interact and whether they are compatible with different active materials in suspension,” Liu said.
The researchers are optimistic that if the product is adopted, the world could be able to supply sufficient silk for industrial use. Currently, China produces over 90% of the world’s silk. However, China has only perfected the production of high-quality silk fabric.
Given that this product does not need high-quality fabric, unusable silk currently discarded could be reused. And it will also divert materials disposed into landfills.
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