Protein-Based Plastics as Next-Gen Renewable Materials: Challenges and Opportunities

H. Zha
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute,
United States

Keywords: protein-based plastics


Nature provides extraordinary examples of high-performance polymers with properties often surpassing those of man-made plastics. Protein-based materials are particularly interesting because their palette of amino acid “monomers” and their precisely controlled sequence can give rise to complex properties based on the synergy of diverse intermolecular interactions. Furthermore, protein-based plastics are made from renewable resources and are entirely biodegradable. For example, silk fibroin, a class of proteins produced by many insects and arachnids, is an archetypal elastomer with an unrivaled combination of strength and toughness. Our research aims to develop new biotic and abiotic synthetic methods to produce silk-mimetic macromolecules with well-defined chemical structures and targeted material properties. These innovations have potential applications in environmental sustainability (e.g. biodegradable plastics for a circular economy) and in healthcare (e.g. materials for tissue engineering and drug release). This talk will present our latest work, as well as discuss challenges and opportunities in the biomanufacturing of sustainable protein-based plastics.