Silky and Sustainable

Introducing the next heavyweight material champion…SILK!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

Plastic…it’s cheap, flexible, durable, colorful…. AND, a nightmare to recycle. Can something else be the new “plastics”? 

Enter Zongpu Xu from Zhejiang University, and team. They set out to make a SUPER sustainable alternative!

They looked at Nacre — what pearls are made of. Its structure is like a wall made of brick and mortar. The team made a similar structure using silk. How? First, they dissolved silk proteins and froze them. Then, they vaporized the ice, creating little silk protein bricks to build with. They moistened up the surfaces of the silk protein bricks, which was like slapping on mortar! Then they stuck the bricks together. 

Results? The silk nacre was stronger than other plastics – AND naturally degrades after 30 days! By mimicking nature, the team developed a sustainable plastic alternative. Their results could pave the way for developing similar green materials!

Phew!! Plastic’s no longer got me feeling scared and NACRE-d!

Reference: Xu, Z., Wu, M.,. Gao, W., & Bai, H. (2022). A sustainable single-component “Silk nacre.” Science Advances, 8(19), 8.