Shrilk: How This New Biodegradable Material Is Changing The Way We Engineer
About 300 million tons of plastic are produced each year, half of this is only used once. 4.8-12.7 million metric tons of plastic end up in the oceans annually. Basically, if something is not done, we are going to have too much plastic garbage in our hands.
Plastic takes a long time to disintegrate. Researchers at Wyss Institute have, however, developed a fully biodegradable plastic called shrilk. It is meant to replace the old plastic.
Only 3% of plastic produced annually is recycled, the remaining 97% ends up either in landfills or the ocean. Plastic in the ocean harms marine life, killing even whales and sharks. Conversely, the plastics left in the landfills also end up harming the environment.
Plastic has no nutritional value to soil and takes long to decompose. Plastics can take about 500 to 1000 years to degrade.
Below is a brief on shrilk and its potential uses.
What Is Shrilk?
Shrilk is made from isolating chitosan. It is found in shrimp shells forming a silk fibroin protein laminate that resembles the microarchitecture of insect cuticle. Shrilk’s main advantage is that it does not harm the environment.
When placed in compost, it quickly biodegrades, forming a nitrogen-rich nutrient fertilizer. Shrilk also has some medical applications. They include wound healing, films, and scaffolds for surgical closure.
Despite being made from biodegradable materials, shrilk’s material hardness is comparable to that of an aluminum alloy. However, shrilk weights about half of what an aluminum alloy weighs.
Shrilk’s hardness is better than Plastic Hardness thus widening the potential applications. The hardness composition makes it perfect for most manufacturing applications.
Benefits of Shrilk
There are a couple of advantages of shrilk.
- Biodegradability makes it environmentally friendly
- Adds nutritional value to soil
- Cheap to produce since it comes from shrimp shells
- Relatively strong
- It can be molded into different shapes
- Shrilk does not pose any harm to the body, unlike plastic, which contains chemicals that have been linked to diseases like cancer. People with allergies are also not affected by this.
- Shrilk can be used to make packaging, trash bags, diaper, among other products that decompose quickly.
Shrilk: Leading Change
Most manufacturing companies use plastic, especially when they want to lower production cost. For example, cheaper computers, smartphones, and other electronic devices have plastic bodies.
The automotive aspect is not as different. Although plastic may be used for other functions besides lowering production costs.
Plastics are widely used in a number of manufacturing processes. You can’t simply get rid of it without having a replacement that is similar in cost and looks. Despite its impact on the environment, the role and wide use of plastic can’t be overlooked.
Shrilk is cheap to make. This is considering its main ingredient comes from shrimp shells. The shells are readily available considering they are sort of a waste product.
If shrilk ends up being cheaper than plastic, manufacturers may end up saving costs, which will have a trickledown effect.
In the automotive industry, the interiors of most vehicles are comprised of plastic. Plastic is used to save costs and also at times reducing weight in cars. For example, most car cockpits feature plastics, principally the dashboards.
The buttons and switches in most cars are also made from plastics. Some of these buttons tend to break easily and having a material that is harder would be really useful in increasing the lifetime of the buttons.
The door panels in most vehicles also feature plastic. Shrilk provides a lighter and environmentally friendly material. It also lasts longer. So it can be used in making the door panels.
Plastic is also used when making the center consoles in vehicles. Using shrilk in place of plastic ensures durability and boosts the quality of the car.
Shrilk can also replace some of the plastics components in the internal systems of vehicles providing a tougher and lighter option. It can also play a big role in making performance and racing cars lighter while still maintaining the sturdy quality.
With developments still going on, shrilk could be hardened even more, thus opening other applications. For example, when cutting cost when making performance vehicles, shrilk can be used in places where carbon fiber would be used. Other applications of shrilk may include building sunroofs.
Plastic pollution levels have increased over the years, and the trend is expected to continue. More deaths associated with plastics are occurring both amongst human beings and other animals. Recycling plastics is clearly not working, and finding environmentally friendly alternatives might be the best way to go.
Most the environmentally friendly options like shrilk are still under development though. It may take time before they are available for use, but at least there is hope.
Furthermore, some governments are offering incentives to companies that use environmentally friendly alternatives. The effects of plastics have become openly visible that the world has had to start thinking of a way forward. Some countries have already banned the use of plastic bags and single-use plastics.
The trend of banning some forms of plastic has slowly been adopted by countries worldwide at times due to global treaties. The UN, for example, has resolved to try and end the plastic pollution of the sea. Over 200 countries have promised to put measures in place to help in stopping plastic from reaching waterbodies.
The future does not look bright for conventional plastic, especially with the amount of pollution attributed to it worldwide. Biodegradable alternatives, if fully developed to end products, will quickly be adopted to replace plastics finally.
However, research on silk is still ongoing despite there being some visible samples of containers and cups made from it. It is unknown when shrilk will be available for large scale manufacturers. Considering the amount of plastic that ends up in the oceans, having a safer alternative will be applauded.
Contact us for more information regarding shrilk.