Spiders and silkworms to save the day

When invented, plastic was, and still is, a great invention. Initially, plastic was based on cellulose, but as industrial chemistry developed, modern plastics are mostly made of crude oil. Since the 1950’s, more than 1 billion tons of plastic has been discarded, and currently about 300 million tons of plastic is produced annually.

From an environmental point of view, this is unbearably littering and polluting. The recent EU plastic strategy and global plastic bag ban is a start, but what we should really be doing is replacing plastics again with natural, ecological materials.

Copying Mother Nature

While developing our sustainable fibre into a commercial product, we are also very much involved in the scientific community and research projects. One of them is an EU H2020 Future Emerging Technologies OPEN project FLIPT (FLow Induced Phase Transitions) that started one and half years ago.

With a team of brilliant minds from around Europe, we are looking to Mother Nature – namely spiders and silkworms – to show us how to replace oil-based materials such as plastics with completely new, natural solutions. Consequently, while listening to a presentation about how a spider weaves its web is where I got my “heureka” moment eight years ago, about spinning cellulose into textile fibre.

Natural silk spinning is at least 1,000 times more energy efficient than a standard polymer yarn production. We intend to find a cellulose aqua melt based fibre spinning method that imitates natural processes, such as how a spider produces its web.

Promising 1st results

Our role in the FLIPT project is mostly experimental. A modified version of the Spinnova technology is used as a test bench for different FLIPT materials. We have already received several samples ranging from Oxford Biomaterials’ reconstituted silk fibroin to University of Sheffield’s polymers and VTT cellulose derivatives. So far, all samples have been spinnable using our technology.

In the FLIPT project, Spinnova’s goal is to validate the usability of different cellulose based, novel raw materials, and to find commercialization routes for these materials. This role comes natural for us, since we have already done this once for our wood based fibres.

In a nutshell, FLIPT’s ultimate goal is to develop a platform technology to generate inspired, low energy materials and production technologies to outperform petroleum-based polymers. So, thank you spiders and silkworms, you might just save the day some day!

Juha Salmela
Chief Technology Officer

Keen to know more?

FLIPT project website

Oxford Biomaterials Website