The challenge of producing a bio-based material that can compete with the strength spider dragline silk has since long been pursued, primarily by trying to make fibers synthetically from silk. Now, by using nanocellulose, the component that makes trees and plants stand up, an international research group, led by Swedish scientists at KTH Royal Institute of technology, has been able to make fibers that not only have the strength surpassing spider silk, but also are 8 times the stiffness.

Nanocellulose is a material component that is generated by trees and plants based on water, carbon dioxide and photosynthesis. It is the component that provides the necessary stability and it, in it self, has super performance being very strong and stiff with properties similar to e.g. Kevlar. Nature uses the nanocellulose brilliantly by taking the nanoscale components and assembling them into a usable structure with good mechanical performance. In other words, Nature has processes for making usable structures from small component.

By developing the knowledge on how nanoscale objects behave during processes, hydrodynamics, electrostatic interactions etc., the team has been able to develop a fabrication process that also succeeds in combining the small components into a usable structure, which is shown is the shape of a  spun fibre or thread. By tweaking the process they are able to produce a continuous fibre having stiffness and strength surpassing the properties of dragline spider silk, and is believed to be the strongest bio-based material ever, natural or man-made.

The basic component of the fibres is nanocellulose, which is available in bulk as a commercial product, and the research is presently ongoing to develop technical solutions that will allow the production of the se fibres on a larger scale. This would allow the use of these fibres in light-weight construction materials for e.g. cars as well as for potential use as a medical component since cellulose has been shown to be compatible with the human body.

The results are presently being spread world-wide and the scientific paper published at ACS Nano can be read at https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acsnano.8b01084.