Researchers at Utah State University have received a $1 million grant to continue their work on developing synthetic spider silk.
The grant is awarded by the U.S. Army Research Office and will allow Utah State University researchers and the Salt Lake City based Technology Holding LLC to scale up the manufacturing of synthetic spider silk. Randy Lewis is the director of the USU Synthetic Bioproducts Center. He says the Army is interested in the fibers as a replacement for nylon clothing.
“So one of the problems with nylon, when used in the field for a variety of things, if there’s sufficient heat it melts," he says. "And when it melts, it melts right onto the skin of the soldier who’s wearing it.”
But Lewis says spider silk can take much higher temperatures and even when it gets too hot, it doesn’t melt. It’s also more elastic than nylon and stronger than Kevlar. He says the grant money is big step towards commercialization.
“This is really specifically to, number one, get to a scale where, it’s pilot scale, where we can provide materials for the Army for testing," he says. "And also it allows us to perfect some of the methods that we’re developing to reach that goal.”
So far, Lewis and his team have only created a few grams of the material, which would produce a strand several thousand meters long, but with the grant money they hope to be able to provide the Army with a pound of fiber and several fabric swatches to test with.