Interview with Ulrich Scherbel, AMSilk: Natur...
Interview with Ulrich Scherbel, AMSilk

Nature has all the answers

Ulrich Scherbel (Source: AMSilk)
Ulrich Scherbel (Source: AMSilk)

AMSilk develops and supplies smart bio-fabricated silk materials for use in everyday life. The environmentally friendly, sustainable silk biopolymers can be fully recycled and are 100% biodegradable.

AmSilk started producing Biosteel fiber in 2015. What kind of fiber is Biosteel and with what kind of conventional fibers can it be compared to? Why is it called Biosteel?
AMSilk’s Biosteel fiber consists to 100% of silk proteins based on natural spider silk. Thus, the most comparable traditionally existing protein fiber would be silk. The origin of the name Biosteel came from the idea to make the dragline of spiders, which is strongest natural material in the world (2 ½ times stronger than steel) available in industrial quantities.

How is the fiber obtained?
We believe that nature has all the answers. AMSilk scanned the spider silk genome and selected the most suitable genes based on demand from various industries and applications. With that the multiple benefits of our smart biotech materials can be adapted to the needs of various market segments. The concrete product advantage is tailored to the specific requirements ensuring an optimal relationship between performance and environmental impact
To produce the protein for the fibers, we use bio fabrication. We transfer the respective spider silk gene into microorganisms such as E.coli bacteria. Having bacteria with the genetic information of silk, adding water and plant-based carbon in a bioreactor allows the bio fermentation of the protein to start.
This bio fermentation technology has so far primarily been used for very complicated, expensive proteins in very small quantities. Typical applications could be drugs and pharmaceutics. Bio fermentation however is also known for producing small molecules like detergent enzymes, amino or acids very cost efficient in large quantities.
The USP of AMSilk is to combine these to technologies and to produce unique, complicated proteins at reasonable costs in big quantities.
As bio fermenters and capacities already exist, the production of our products is very scalable for our customers. This is usually not the case for many sustainable materials.
Based on a proprietary spinning technology AMSilk and our partners spin fibers out of the produced silk protein.

Where are these fibers already used and what areas of application for textiles are conceivable in future?
Bio fabricated AMSilk materials are bridging two apparent opposites of man-made materials in a unique way: They combine a wide spectrum of smart performance aspects with an unrivalled ecological assessment.
In the beginning AMSilk commercialized its silk proteins as hydrogel in various applications such as cosmetics consumer goods.
Once the spinning process had been developed, AMSilk created numerous exiting demonstration products using Biosteel with partners like a sports shoe with adidas.
The first commercial Biosteel fiber products then were luxury watch wristbands.
There will be more large scale commercial Biosteel fiber products available in the area of luxury fashion, sportswear apparel and performance shoes in the next months.
We also work with partners to use our silk protein fibers in mobility application such as automotive and aviation. Here we have made very good progress.
Based on a fascinating narrative, we provide bio-bettering materials on an industrial scale to overcome the dilemma between the expectation for smart-performing products and the demand for environmentally sound offerings
Improving products and creating a positive impact on the environment across various industries is the purpose of our efforts. We are always eager to find new applications, where our inventiveness can influence a positive change by replacing existing materials with bio-fabricated technologies previously unimaginable.

Production is carried out in Europe and is expected to exceed six tons in 2022. Are further capacity expansions planned?
We redefine industries by making biotech materials accessible to everyone. We plan with a capacity extension beyond 20,000 tons a year and will extend our production network outside of Europe.
Based on our scalable biotechnological platform and a best-in-class patent portfolio, we can provide large quantities of premium bio-fabricated silk materials in constant quality. This is our contribution to make smart biotech materials a part of everyday life.

What is the estimated demand for this type of material in the next 5-10 years?
The customer demand today is overwhelming. Through joint developments, we make our customers’ great performing products technologically and ecologically better. By combining our mutual competencies, we create more value for everyone.
Our smart biotech materials outperform existing, fossil-based products not only through their optimal relationship between performance and positive environmental impact, but also through the adaptability of multiple benefits to a broad range of meaningful applications.
In this sense our material is game changing. We redefine industries by making biotech materials accessible to everyone.
We foresee that the demand over the next years will be by far higher than production capacities.

How environmentally friendly and sustainable is Biosteel?
All AMSilk biotech materials are always created with their end of life in mind.
We believe that our products are smarter by nature. The raw material for our Biosteel fibers is plant-based carbon. This differs Biosteel from most of the synthetic fibers, which usually use fossil-based carbon such as petroleum as raw material.
Bio fabrication as production technology is perceived as one of the most sustainable manufacturing technologies now and in the future.
At the end of life, Biosteel fibers – which are entirely made from protein  - biodegrade in soil or seawater within months. This means that there is no plastic waste or microplastic emission.
Being vegan, completely biodegradable and produced only with renewable resources, our fibers are truly environmentally friendly and make a significant contribution to a future zero-waste society.
The interview was conducted by Mechthild Maas, editor of TextileTechnology, with Ulrich Scherbel, CEO of AMSilk GmbH, Planegg/Germany.

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