Researchers Turn Silk Into Leather That’s 3D Printable And Recyclable

Scientists are pacing ahead in research to produce new and innovative materials and have demonstrated turning silk-like soft material to leather-like material that is both 3D printable and recyclable.

Leather is a useful material, and for centuries has allowed humans to make rich and lasting covers, horse seats, shoes, purses, vehicle interiors, and whatnot. The material is widely used given the kind of reliability it brings along and lasts longer than any other of its substitute, all while being considered as quality material.

Producing leather, however, has not been so environmentally friendly. The only source to obtain the useful and lasting material is by treating a cow’s skin through a procedure to obtain the finest form. Now a new piece of good news has surfaced for both, the cows and the humans.

Researchers from Tuft university have developed leather-like material that is just as good enough as conventionally obtained leather. The material is 3D printable, would come at a cheaper cost, and could be recycled into making different products as desired later.

Conventional leather not friendly to the environment

Leather, because of its wide use and versatility has been used for thousands of years, and there is a large demand for it even today. People like to carry quality leather bags, wear leather shoes, and desire of having an all-leather interior in their cars. Leather products come at a hefty price, however, it’s not as hefty to go beyond a lot of people’s range.

The only downside is that the loved material is developed through an environment harming procedure. Cattle farms take up masses of land and drain lots of water, the animals themselves come with an effect of increasing methane in the environment, and not to mention the least, the harsh chemicals used in the process to produce leather from an animal’s skin pose risks to the atmosphere.

Environment-friendly 3D printed leather

Now catering to those concerns, researchers have introduced a greener and cleaner alternative that uses silk to 3D print a leather-like material. Silk comes at a lesser environmental footprint, and the newfound process only makes use of mild chemicals at room temperature to convert silk into a tougher, firmer, and more durable material, all while maintaining the flexibility factor.

The process includes mixing the silk fibers into a slurry, which breaks them down into their original protein component. The obtained material is integrated with a plasticizer and a vegetable gum thickener, leaving it into a 3D printable state. Strengthening the material, researchers added Chitosan, “the material that gives shellfish their tough exoskeleton” and then mixed it with plasticizer and dye.

The new material packs the quality attributes of traditional leather, and the amazing part is that it could also be converted into different new products once a bag or a shoe made from it reaches its end, just like the conventional known leather could be turned into new products. Moreover, the material is 100 percent biodegradable and would dissolve in soil, leaving the environment lesser polluted.

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