FLAM, the alternative to plastic hides in nature


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Javier Gómez Fernández, researcher at the Singapore University of Technology and Design (SUTD)He went through MIT and Harvard University. He came to the fore in 2015 for the creation of the new biodegradable material, the shrilk, created with microelectronic and nanotechnology techniques and labeled as the perfect substitute for plastic. Reviewing his journey, Fernández assures that “the shrike is important not only as a material, but also as a concept. It has the peculiarity that it is structured in the same way that materials are formed in nature, since it is capable of finding solutions with the elements around it and creating authentic engineering geniuses».

This material was supposed to take chitin from shrimp shells and get a silk protein called fibroin.

He affirms that Procter & Gamble, Nike, Gillette or Coca-Cola knocked on his door, but he assures that he rejected them to continue with the search for a technology that followed the rules of nature. “We learned a lot of things from the talks with the companies, related to the cost and implications of scaling a product,” says Gómez.

From shrilk to FLAM

In 2016 he developed another material, called FLAM, in which chitin was kept, but fibroin was left out of the equation, replaced by another material that can be found in any corner of the world, cellulose. “They are the two most abundant biological components in the world. This fulfills the third requirement of bio-inspiration, to use the material in an integrated way with the ecology of the ecosystem”, points out the scientist. FLAM required a 3D printer with a robotic arm, and it was much cheaper, which is an important detail to make it competitive with plastic, and it can be produced at incredible speeds. In addition, biomaterials mean not producing garbage or emitting CO2.

Robotic arm for the design of the FLAM
Robotic arm for the design of the FLAM

Years later they showed that the material could be obtained in any ecosystem. “That’s crucial for places like Singapore, which is a country that does not have a primary sector, with which it depends enormously on the resources of the countries around it. And with biomaterials you give them the opportunity to regionalize their production».

‘The age of biomaterials’

deep down it is the vision of biomaterials not only as substitutes for plastic, but as a new form of materials that allow the development of technology and concepts for sort out the challenges of this century, not only the environmental and geopolitical ones. A philosophy that can also be applied to the creation of ecosystems outside the Earth, something that, according to this scientist, can be done optimally with biomaterials, creating a circular system.

In the next two years, he expects the technology to be more scaled and applied in the sectors that are his main collaborators, real estate and the automotive industry. It will be a qualitative leap with a totally different concept. Fernández points out that “we consume and produce at the rate we do because we have plastic, but with biomaterials we will quickly adapt a new model. Before the century is out we’ll see what we call ‘the age of biomaterials’, a transition that will change the economy».

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