Cambridge University invents vegan spider silk to replace single-use plastics

Website Link (Article by Ingredientsnetwork)

Xampla, a spinoff from Cambridge University, is working on commercializing a biodegradable alternative to single-use plastics that is made out of plant products but where the molecular structure is manipulated to resemble spider silk.

The polymer film is comprised of crystalline and amorphous chains that have been genetically engineered to replicate the protein chains that are present in a spider’s web, which is one of the earth’s strongest natural materials.

Currently Xampla is working with commercially available soy and pea protein to create these protein chains that will become a flexible, bio-degradable film, but Food Navigator reported that the firm’s technology can be used on a wide variety of plant proteins.

What makes Xampla’s research intriguing is the startup’s pursuit of creating a transparent plant-based film. Currently, there are many plant-based, bio-degradable packaging options available on the market, but due to the non-soluable molecular makeup of proteins, it is difficult to chain these proteins together to create a see-through material that is reminiscent of plastic.

However, Xampla has discovered a method to accomplish this feat. Using a vinegar-based mild solvent, scientists have been able to unfold plant proteins and render them sufficiently malleable to rearrange them at a molecular level. Doing so has allowed Xampla to create chains that resemble spider silk that can then be woven together into a transparent film that performs like plastic.

The startup noted that it is still perfecting the color and texture of the plant-based film. Additionally, when the bio-based alternative initially becomes available, Xampla said it will be more expensive than petroleum-derived plastics. However, Xampla noted that as the demand scales and production increases, price parity with traditional plastic is a distinct possibility.

While the technology has not yet progressed to the point where it is commercially available, the startup anticipates that it will launch its first products in 2022. In addition to bio-based transparent sachets, Xampla is looking at water-soluble solutions that will dissipate should the packaging comes into contact with water. A water-soluble solution has the advantage of helping to avert a further increase in the number of plastics, including microplastics, that find their way into the ocean and do not biodegrade.

Xampla is working on this plastic alternative at a time when the European Union is rolling out the Directive on Single-Use Plastics which outlawed plastic products such as straws and utensils beginning on July 3, when there are sustainable and affordable alternatives easily available.

Published by RenSun Lee

Kia ora! Sustainability is at the core of my soul ever since I was a kid. I always strive to finish the food on my plate and live as a minimalist. I love to cut down on waste in order to live sustainably and harmoniously with our planet. This brings me to my passion as a Food Scientist to integrate new technologies into innovative and creative solutions to meet customer demands and market trends and to optimize products and processes for quality, savings and sustainability. To these goals, I have published a Journal on my work on sustainable packaging and patented a new Antimicrobial wash. Nothing is more satisfying than working hard and smart at the workplace and playing hard outside of working hours. I enjoy rejuvenating myself through spending quality time with my two adorable kids and my awesome soul mate and getting close to nature when possible, be it gardening, tramping or going to the beach. I also love to learn about our magnificent universe and how sustainability is working in the grand scheme of things. I strongly believe that Work, Life & Balance is the key to a healthy state of mind, both physically and mentally. I look forward to making a positive difference wherever and whenever I can. Through this Blog, I hope to catalog recent Food Trends and Food Technologies that I come across so that anyone who is interested can have access to it (articles and resources). Please use these resources at your discretion. On top of that, I would also like to share related news and technologies of the future that would help mankind advance towards a Type 1 Civilization. Please feel free to contact me if you would like to share and contribute to the “Resources“. I would like to thank you in advance for dropping by. I sincerely hope that you can benefit from the recent Food Trends and Food Technologies I catalogued. Kind regards | Ngā mihi RenSun Lee

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