A new plastic made from plant proteins could replace single-use plastics made from fossil fuels. Research published this week in Nature Communications described how scientists at the University of Cambridge Knowles Lab figured out how to turn plant protein into a natural, sustainable, scalable polymer film.
Xampla, a startup that originated at the University of Cambridge, makes the new material from plant protein that is a byproduct of agriculture. The plant-based polymer film leaves no pollutants behind and breaks down naturally. Unlike the bio-polymers commonly used in conventional plastic, the new material doesn’t require cross-linking, a process which can result in toxic pollutants. It uses water, acetic acid, heat and ultrasonication to transform plant proteins into this useful polymer.
The newly published paper contains 10 years’ worth of research into this revolutionary plant plastic. The researchers say that spider webs inspired them. Despite being stronger than steel weight-for-weight, webs have weak molecular bonds and easily break down. The scientists’ research sought to understand and perhaps mimic this arachnid phenomenon.
“One of the key breakthroughs is that we can supply this product on a large scale, and it can replace plastic in very specific applications,” said research lead Tuomas Knowles. “We have proved it’s possible to solve the single-use plastics problem.” Xampla’s intended applications for the material include microcapsules, carrier bags, sachets and flexible packaging films.
“It’s amazing to realize that a discovery you make in a lab can have a big impact on solving a global problem,” said Marc Rodriguez Garcia, Xampla’s head of research and co-author of the paper. “That’s essentially why we are doing this — we really love the science, but we also wanted to do something meaningful about solving the overwhelming problem of plastic waste.”
Xampla has garnered significant financial support from backers, including £6.2 million ($8.8 million) in January, and £2 million ($2.8 million) announced in April 2020.
Via Yahoo Finance
Images via Xampla