As scientific innovations often do, the plant-based material came about as a result of curiosity.
Xampla’s academic founder, Cambridge University biophysicist professor Thomas Knowles asked himself the question: how does a spider make its silk?
Spider webs may look delicate, but they are one of the strongest materials in nature, holding up to 350 times their own weight. The magic ingredient in spider silk is protein, which is found in animals but also in plants.
After learning how spiders convert their proteins, Professor Knowles set out to conduct the same process to convert plant proteins into a high performance material to replace flexible plastic film in commercial products.
“Plant proteins have the unusual combination of being insoluble but degradable, so you get something that’s high performing yet completely digestible by the creatures in marine environments,” explains Hombersley.
Xampla tackles several issues with one solution. It reduces the amount of fossil-fuel plastics by offering a replacement. The use of plant-based materials, in turn, can prevent the occurrence of dangerous microplastics left in the oceans.
Unbelievable, but true:
Professor Knowles wasn’t the only one intrigued by spiders. Researchers from Finland’s Aalto University and VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland are taking this idea a step further using wood pulp:
the process involves breaking down tree pulp into tiny fibres and then arranging them into a scaffold. This scaffold is then infiltrated with synthetic “spider silk” proteins developed
in a lab. The result is a material that is strong enough to replace plastics in a whole range of industries including food packaging, but also medical engineering, and even aerospace.
A ”natural wood glue” to cut the construction industry’s massive emissions
The race is on to find bio-based solutions for chemicals like the ones found in concrete, adhesive and tarmac.
Here’s why: Buildings and the construction industry – our building of roads, houses, pavements and other concrete structures in particular
– were responsible for almost 40 per cent of global process-related carbon dioxide emissions in 2018.
One promising development being explored by researchers at Université Laval in Canada is the use of lignin from wood in tarmac instead of traditional bitumen, the sticky black petroleum-based substance which is mined from crude oil.
Known as the “natural wood glue”, lignin binds together the cellulose ﬁbres in plants, and it is believed it can serve the same purpose in the production of asphalt pavement.
Tests are being undertaken in a high-tech simulator at Université Laval, which will assess the effect of years of heavy traffic within a short few weeks.
Using lignin in roads can benefit the planet in more ways than one. Trees are a natural source of carbon storage, as they reduce the amount of carbon dioxide floating in our atmosphere.
Even after a tree has been cut, it acts as a carbon storage, so using wood materials in new places like roads keeps carbon locked up in the ground for a long time. What a way to travel, knowing you’re crossing a road that preserves something so valuable.
Unbelievable, but true:
In a preliminary study analysing the potential environmental benefits of using lignin in asphalt, results showed that emissions of up to 117,000 to 260,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent per year could be avoided in Canada alone. That is the equivalent to removing up to 56,171 cars from the road each year.