Five times stronger than steel and three times tougher than Kevlar, by weight, spider silk has galvanized the imaginations of researchers for many years. However, producing or harvesting spider silk protein in a viable way has proven challenging, although a handful of smaller companies are appearing to make a go of it. One of them is Kraig Biocraft Laboratories (Lansing, MI), which announced earlier this month that Warwick Mills (New Ipswich, NH) will use its genetically engineered spider silk to produce textiles for the first time.
Kraig's Monster Silk is spun by genetically engineered silkworms. When company founder and CEO Kim Thompson first broached university researchers with the idea of producing spider silk from transgenic silkworms, it was greeted with skepticism and worse. He persevered, however, and feels that commercial success is just around the corner. "Much of our lives have been spent in the lab," Thompson told PlasticsToday. "We are leaving the lab now and getting ready to scale up production."
The collaboration with Warwick Mills, a materials engineering company known for TurtleSkin body armor and developing fabrics for the Mars Rover missions, has allowed Kraig to verify that the fibers are compatible with existing yarn processing and textile production methods. "The fact that these advanced materials process well on existing machinery will help speed development of advanced spider silk textiles," says Thompson. The small-scale trials conducted by Warwick Mills also are key in helping to identify areas for development.