B&W Fiberglass News

The Future of Spider Silk in Tech Textiles

Posted by Brent Beason on Apr 6, 2017 4:04:38 PM
For hundreds of years, mankind has been in awe of the near-mythical qualities of spider silk. Are spider webs really “stronger than steel” on a pound-for-pound basis? You may not believe it, but the saying is true. Spider silk has steel-comparable tensile strength with the added qualities of rubber-like elongation; it’s no wonder the tech textile industry has been racing to create synthetic spider silk for decades.

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What is Spider Silk?

In nature, spider silk exists for a variety of purposes, most notably to form strong, sticky webs for catching prey. Spiders use special glands in their abdomen to create the protein strands, and certain spiders can individually produce up to seven different types of silk. The silk is one of the strongest textiles known in nature, and it’s endlessly flexible - its properties have drawn comparisons to meta and para aramids. After much tinkering, an American company named Bolt Threads finally nailed the production process for synthetic spider silk back in 2015, and they’re working on scaling up. Today, the footrace to find new uses and applications for spider silk is on.

 

Applications of Spider Silk

The ways in which spider silk can be used go much farther than Bolt Threads’ new-to-market “spider silk necktie.” The engineered proteins used to spin synthetic spider silk are incredibly versatile, suited for everything from biotech to so-called smart fabric. Clothing made with the material is incredibly durable, making the textile a natural fit for activewear. Spider silk is also highly sustainable, made from a combination of sugar, water, salt, and yeast. Visionaries in the field are already hypothesizing ways spider silk could be used to create things like military armor, automobile parts, and pharmaceutical packaging. Because the material is so customizable, it can be imbued with textures and even colors to suit almost any application.

 

The Future of Spider Silk

The future of spider silk is very, very bright. The ultimate usefulness of the textile hinges on manufacturers’ ability to scale commercially, but several say they have a promising start. When perfected, experts say spider silk textiles could replace other artificial textiles such as nylon, which melts when heated. Once textile manufacturers find a way to replicate the protein-based synthesis process on a large scale and develop a streamlined spinning method, the sky is the theoretical limit.

 

Textile technology is an exciting industry, and it’s changing all the time. Only time will tell what the future holds for spider silk; rest assured B&W Fiberglass will be watching.

Do you have questions about a customized textile for your specific application? Give our team a call today.

Topics: Tech Trends, Materials