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Technion researchers have developed conductive biological polymers using proteins

The polymers are based on recycling by-products of the food industry

The new polymer over the haunted bush. From the research of Dr. Nadav Amdorsky. Photo: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson
The new polymer over the haunted bush. From the research of Dr. Nadav Amdorsky. Photo: Nitzan Zohar, Technion Spokesperson

Newspaper Advanced materials Reports the success of Technion researchers in creating conductive devices, relevant among other things in solar energy production and biomedical engineering, using byproducts of the food industry that would otherwise be thrown into the trash. The technology demonstrated in the article enables simple, fast, cheap and environmentally friendly production of various components including sensors for monitoring physiological indicators.

The research was conducted at the Shulich Faculty of Chemistry at the Technion under the leadership of Dr. Nadav Amdorski, head of the Laboratory for Biological Polymers and Bioelectronics, and doctoral students Ramesh Nandi and Yuval Agam. According to Dr. Amdorski, "The green trend sweeping the world does not miss the industry, and many groups around the world are working on new solutions that will reduce the pollution caused by the production of artificial materials and their very presence. One of the alternatives is of course the use of natural materials, and the big challenge is to adapt them to the required need."

The two main directions in environmentally friendly chemistry are Environmental chemistry - creation of environmentally friendly materials; andsustainable chemistry - Production based on available non-perishable materials and energy-efficient processes. The current research combines these two directions through an environmentally friendly production process that produces environmentally friendly products, and this in the context of Conductive polymers.

Environmentally friendly products

Polymers are long chains of thousands of building blocks called monomers. Silk, wool and cotton fibers are examples of natural polymers, while nylon and PVC are artificial polymers. Conductive polymers They are a subset of polymers, and they are used in a huge variety of applications in electronics, energy storage, fuel cells, medicine and more. Today, these polymers are produced in expensive and polluting processes from derivatives of oil, gas and fossil fuel. 

The alternative presented by the Technion researchers is protein polymers - Molecules found in various biological tissues such as silk and wool fibers, spider webs, hairs and nails. Here, as mentioned, they were taken from by-products of the food industry that would otherwise have been thrown into the trash. According to Dr. Amdorsky, "the inspiration for using proteins to create electrically conductive polymers stems from the unique function of proteins in nature, which are solely responsible for transporting various charge carriers in the animal and plant worlds - for example, the transfer of the charge in the process of cellular respiration or in the process of photosynthesis in plants."

Inspired by natural protein structures the researchers created Transparent polymer sheets with high conductivity. These sheets are suitable for biological and biomedical uses since they are non-toxic, they decompose in the human body and they can be stretched by about 400% of their original length without significantly damaging their electrical properties. Their electrical conductivity is one of the highest found in biological materials.

According to Dr. Amdorsky, "The production of the canvases in our research is a continuous process (one-pot process), spontaneous, cheap, fast, energy-saving and non-polluting. In the article we demonstrate the use of such sheetsAn 'artificial skin' that non-invasively monitors electrophysiological signals. Such signals play a significant role in brain and muscle activity, so their external monitoring is a very important challenge."

Dr. Amdorsky emphasizes that since these are technologies intended for application and commercialization, "the economic consideration is central and therefore it is very important to cheapen the production processes so that they produce a product that will also compete in price with petrochemical-based polymers, and I am happy that we succeeded in doing so." This is in addition to reducing environmental damage both in the production phase and in the use phase. The new polymer can fully biodegrade in less than 48 hours, this is in contrast to the synthetic polymers that are not biodegradable and therefore pollute our world." 

The research was supported by the Gutwirt Foundation (scholarship to Ramesh Nandy), the US-Israel Binational Science Foundation, the Ministry of Science and Technology and the PhosAgro/UNESCO/IUPAC grant in the field of green chemistry. The researchers thank the Grand Technion Energy Program (GTEP) for the financial support through the NEVET program and the Russell Berry Institute for Nanotechnology at the Technion (RBNI) for the opportunity to use the institute's research infrastructure.

for the article in the journal  Advanced materials 

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