New powdery future for wool and silk
7 December 2009
New applications for wool and other natural fibres are expected from an international collaboration between Deakin University, the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO) and Tufts University in the United States.
The initiative recently received Australian Research Council Discovery Project funding.
"Traditionally, we think of natural protein fibres like wool and silk mainly being used in textile applications," explainedProfessor Xungai Wang, project leader and head of Deakin'sCentre for Material and Fibre Innovation.
"This research will explore how we can turn these natural fibres into fine powders and make them available for a new generation of uses, such as artificial skins, medical bandages and pollution absorbers."
Deakin senior research academic Dr Takuya Tsuzuki said the project was good news for the environment.
"We believe these new types of 'green' nanomaterials that are made from renewable raw materials will be biocompatible – compatible with living tissue – and biodegradable. We also think they will have a carbon-neutral nature in the entire product cycle from synthesis to disposal.
"One of the aims of the project is to produce a platform technology with 'green' organic micro and nano particles that have a wide range of applications."
Dr Suzanne Smith, an ANSTO Senior Research Fellow, explained more about the powders and their potential benefits.
"This is an exciting journey which may lead to a new range of environmentally friendly products which can be used to absorb and clean up pollutants. These would be biodegradable and have extraordinary behaviour characteristics such as faster and higher absorption rates than current products," she said.
"Natural powder products such as wool and silk are biocompatible, potentially making them ideal for wound protection, artificial skin or even drug delivery."
Professor Wang said the research had the potential to make a positive contribution to the natural fibre industry.
"As well as supporting the Australian wool industry, this work could underpin the development of a future sustainable protein fibre industry," he said. "It could also assist in recycling and reducing current high levels of product lost to waste."
Also working on the project is Professor David Kaplan, Stern Family Professor of Engineering at Tufts University. Professor Kaplan will be exploring the integration of the particles into protein-based biomaterials. The project is expected to run over the next three years.
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