Polymer film from University of Cambridge is made of sustainable, plant-based polymers that are reassembled to form immensely strong fibers that could be used to replace single-use plastics.


  • Scalable
  • Sustainable
  • Biodegradable


  • Consumer goods
  • Packaging

UN Sustainable Development Goals Addressed

  • Goal 12: Responsible Production & Consumption


  • Soy protein isolate

The Challenge

Plastic pollution has quickly become one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, as responsible waste management processes cannot keep up with plastic consumption. Plastic waste can take decades to decompose and poses a considerable threat to wildlife, killing millions of animals each year through entanglement or starvation. Moreover, the plastic industry has a significant carbon footprint; plastics are produced through the use of fossil fuels. In recent years, interest in compostable replacement materials has grown, but many of these sustainable products are difficult to engineer and lack the material properties of plastics, discouraging their use.

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Innovation Details

The high-performance film is made out of a plant called soy protein isolate, which can be sourced as a by-product of the agriculture industry. Soy protein isolate, like all proteins, consists of polypeptide chains. Under the right conditions, these s can undergo self-assembly, a process in which a system’s components interact with each other and organize into functional structures. To accomplish self-assembly, a solvent made of acetic acid and water helps to reorganize the plant protein as the temperature of the system lowers gradually. The resulting material performs as well as commonly used plastic materials such as low-density polyethylene, but is biodegradable.

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Biomimicry Story

Spider silk may seem fragile, but it is actually incredibly durable and flexible, with strength five times greater than steel by weight. The silk is so strong partly because its hydrogen bonds are regularly spaced at high density. This microstructure is accomplished through the process of self-assembly, in which proteins within the spider reorganize and rapidly convert into structurally complex silk.