Currently there is no truly sustainable pathway for the production of plastics, an industry which in the EU employs 1.45M people, has a turnover of €89B but consumes ~778GWh of energy per annum. This is an opportunity for industry with pressure increasing to develop low energy, high-quality, wet-processing techniques for consumer products. Here Nature may provide us with inspiration, as over hundreds of millions of years, it has evolved numerous strategies for efficient processing of its materials. One such solution has been recently hypothesised in natural silk spinning: FLIPT: FLow Induced Phase Transitions, a disruptive process which we believe could hold the key to a new low energy paradigm for polymer processing. Our research is promising, as it has already shown that silk is at least 1000 times more efficient at processing than a standard polymer (HDPE).
To address these challenges our consortia will combine the expertise of world-leading groups in natural materials, polymer synthesis and material processing alongside practical input from 2 SME partners and larger European companies. Taking inspiration from the spider and silkworm, novel functionalised polymers (‘aquamelts’) will be created that utilise FLIPT; enabling controlled solidification with minimal energy input. We firmly believe that there is huge potential in uncovering silks hidden functionality and applying it to enhance the processing of a range of polymeric materials. It is our goal to develop a platform technology to generate novel, bespoke, naturally derived, low embodied-energy materials, which would be competitive with current petroleum-based polymers in terms of performance and economics while well exceeding such materials in terms of sustainability.