Japanese startup Spiber has developed a spider silk-inspired biodegradable material that can be used in applications ranging from apparel to auto parts.
A 2007 offshoot of Japan’s Keio University – and one of Japan’s few unicorns – Spiber’s unique ‘Brewed Protein’ is made by feeding such plant-derived sugars as glucose to microbes. The fermentation process converts biomass into proteins that can be transformed into strong and lightweight materials.
“We want proteins to contribute to social development as a new core industry following ceramics, steel and plastics,” said Keisuke Morita, who will be heading the company’s first mass production facility in Rayong, Thailand.
The Rayong plant is scheduled to enter full operation late this year. It will be able to churn out hundreds of tons of the proteins annually – 100 times the capacity of Spiber’s pilot site in Japan.
Spiber chose Thailand on account of its low cost biomass: “Sugar from sugar cane is half as expensive as in Japan, and cassava-derived sugar is 20% to 30% cheaper,” notes Morita.
According to the Nikkei Asian Review, this should enable Spiber to produce Brewed Protein for less than $100 per kilogram.
Though apparel is the startup’s first target customer (North Face sportswear sold limited-edition T-shirts and sweaters made with Brewed Protein in 2019 and 2020), it plans to expand into the auto industry next.
According to Morita, Brewed Protein may appeal to automakers making their vehicles lighter to save fuel: “We see Brewed Protein being used in interior components such as seats over the medium and long term.”
Image and content: Nikkei Asian Review