Focus for Bio-industries is How to Scale Up, Commercialise Innovations and Get Funding

Vegan, completely biodegradable and produced with bio-fabrication, AMSilk’s products are environment friendly and make a significant contribution to a future zero-waste society. Ulrich Scherbel, Managing Director at AMSilk, the world’s leading supplier of innovative high-performance biotech materials, talks to texfash.com about how he aims to make smart performing biotech materials part of everyday life.

Long Story, Cut Short
  • Bio-fabricated silk proteins are created using renewable carbon and raw materials through the process of fermentation.
  • Its unique high-tech bio-fabrication process takes the blueprint for silk from the genome of a spider and reprogrammes micro-organisms to enable them to produce silk polymers.
  • AMSilk ensures that no fossil fuels are used in its products; plant-based renewable carbon is used instead.
Spider silk claims higher purity and strength compared to traditional mulberry spinner silk. AMSilk views its products as a new class of materials previously unimaginable, providing innovative, sustainable, and smart performing solutions.
Climbing up Spider silk claims higher purity and strength compared to traditional mulberry spinner silk. AMSilk views its products as a new class of materials previously unimaginable, providing innovative, sustainable, and smart performing solutions. AMSilk

Ulrich Scherbel, the Managing Director (CEO) at AMSilk, brings more than 25 years of global expertise in performance textiles. Ulrich’s vision is that AMSilk’s bio-technology and silk polymer products will lead customers to change to better and more sustainable products in their industries. This would generate everlasting change for customers and consumers, at the same time taking AMSilk to a new level. Ulrich joined AMSilk 2020 as COO for the expansion of industrial production and sales. In 2021, he was appointed CEO, and while he continues to drive business growth, he has started to lead the strategic expansion of AMSilk’s Silk Polymer Platform into new industries and applications.

AMSilk says that its silk proteins and technology help build a better future by protecting the planet’s natural resources. — Kindly elaborate from the prism of the textile-apparel-fashion (including technical textiles like medtech) industry.
We believe that nature has all the answers to replace existing materials with revolutionary alternatives. Our bio-fabricated silk proteins are created using renewable carbon and raw materials through the process of fermentation. Our proteins and textile fibres are biodegradable, taking just a few months to break down the silk in seawater and on land. Our compostable products are free of microplastics and can be recycled and re-spun.

AMSilk serves multiple industries providing products that can be applied across a range of sectors. For example, in medical devices, our products can be used as implant coatings to create a bio-harmony between the body and implant. Once the medical device has been successfully implanted, the proteins will biodegrade in the human body.  

Again, you say that you make the planet a better place by replacing petroleum-based processes and products with sustainable biomaterial alternatives. Yours is engineered silk. Means you need to market against real silk. What's your official position on real silk?
Natural silk is a traditional material that stands for luxury in many countries. What’s important to know is that the production of this silk is not a kind of natural farming and I think that’s a cruel business. Traditional silk is made from the cocoons of the Mulberry Silk Spinner butterfly. 5000 caterpillars are boiled alive within their cocoon during the production process of one-kilogram of conventional silk. They are not able to change into the beautiful butterfly they are destined to be.

Most importantly, the production of AMSilk’s bio-fabricated silk does not involve any natural farming processes. Our unique high-tech bio-fabrication process takes the blueprint for silk from the genome of a spider and re-programmes micro-organisms to enable them to produce silk polymers. Spider silk has higher purity and strength compared to traditional mulberry spinner silk. Instead of comparing our materials against traditional mulberry silk, we see our products as a new class of materials previously unimaginable, providing innovative, sustainable, and smart performing solutions.

The production of our recombinant silk protein uses bacteria and biotechnology fermentation processes. During this process, we can adapt the properties of our silk proteins for numerous applications. This works in two ways. Firstly, we can decide on the structure of the silk molecules and secondly, we can spin out the yarn in different fineness. We use very coarse yarns for smart performance fibres and ultrafine fibres, even finer than traditional silk fibres, for luxury materials.

The Higg MSI has suffered a clobbering lately. How do you certify your products as sustainable and planet friendly?
Today there is a limited choice of testing methods and those available were developed long before bio-fabrication in industrial quantities existed. We are defining new test methods, which fully measure the properties of our novel products in detail and certify their sustainability.

For us, sustainability begins with the raw materials in products. AMSilk ensures that no fossil fuels are used in its products, but plant-based renewable carbon is used instead.

At AMSilk, bio-fabricated materials are always created with their end of life in mind, ensuring our fibres can be fully recycled or biodegrade. The recycling rate for textile fibres today is estimated to be below 2% which means the majority of fibres end up in landfills as microplastics, polluting our planet for hundreds and thousands of years.

Being vegan, completely biodegradable and produced with bio-fabrication, AMSilk’s products are truly environmentally friendly and make a significant contribution to a future zero-waste society.

The founders of AMSilk believe society stands at a tipping point and we must act now to preserve the natural resources of our planet. AMSilk started with the idea that “nature has all the answers” and wanted to make spider silk, one of the strongest and most versatile materials of the world, available to a broad range of industries at scale.

The textiles field is just one example of the many diverse areas of application for AMSilk's biotech materials across various industries. They are revolutionising products such as high-performance sports clothing and also driving state-of-the-art biomedical developments.
Versatile and earth friendly The textiles field is just one example of the many diverse areas of application for AMSilk's biotech materials across various industries.
They are revolutionising products such as high-performance sports clothing as also driving state-of-the-art biomedical developments.
AMSilk

Do you think Higg gave silk a raw deal? What are your arguments against Higg? Did they consult you? What was wrong with the entire process?
It is hard to judge what Higg means with regards to natural silk. We believe that any sustainability index or rating can only cover a part of reality. Any index is based on the materials which are available at the time the index is created, and it needs to be continually adjusted to incorporate new knowledge or new materials being established.

Last year AMSilk received funding of 29m Euros. How fast have things progressed since then and what have been your key focus areas, wrt the textile-apparel-fashion industry?
We have invested the funds primarily in two key areas. Firstly, we have invested in our team to bring on board the best professionals who are enthusiastic and support our mission to make smart biomaterials a part of daily life. Secondly, we have invested together with our collaboration partners, to scale-up our protein and yarn spinning production to several thousand tonnes.

If I were to ask you to look ahead, say the next decade or maybe five years, howsoever fast the world moves, what are the key trends do you think will overtake life and living with respect to how smart biotech materials could be a part of our everyday life?
We believe the demand for decarbonisation of the textiles industry will continue as we anticipate a ban on fossil based raw materials and an expedited transition to a zero-waste society.

The general concept of biomaterials and bio-fabrication has widely established itself as the solution to sustainable materials for the future. We see some fantastic science and wonderful innovations in the field of biomaterials but unfortunately, not all of them are scalable to large volumes.

Inevitably, the cost of truly innovative biomaterials will initially be higher in comparison to traditional fossil products and chemical supply chains but over the next five years we believe we will overcome this cost gap. The main focus for the bio-industries is how to scale up, commercialise these innovations and finance them over time.

What does the R&D at your labs say? What new and revolutionary in the next few months or year can we expect?
Along with the increased commercial availability of our Biosteel and new ultrafine textile fibres, you can expect new and exciting consumer goods enriched with our silk proteins that offer a longer lifespan and are sustainable through bio-bettering.

How did AMSilk come about? What was the idea that led to AMSilk? Who are the people behind it?
The founders of AMSilk believe society stands at a tipping point and we must act now to preserve the natural resources of our planet. AMSilk started with the idea that “nature has all the answers” and wanted to make spider silk, one of the strongest and most versatile materials of the world, available to a broad range of industries at scale.

The people behind AMSilk are a team of world-class scientists and experienced professionals who are supported by some of the strongest shareholders in the bio-industry. We believe that nature offers better alternatives to existing materials and that AMSilk today is the prime mover of smart bio-fabricated silk materials.

What are the future plans?
There is an ever-increasing demand for sustainable alternatives. In 2022, AMSilk has scaled-up production by several thousand tonnes and expanded its production network outside of Europe to keep up with the demand. We foresee that the demand over the next few years will continue to increase, and it is AMSilk’s goal is to make smart performing biotech materials part of everyday life.

Today there is a limited choice of testing methods and those available were developed long before bio-fabrication in industrial quantities existed. We are defining new test methods, which fully measure the properties of our novel products in detail and certify their sustainability.

Ulrich Scherbel
Ulrich Scherbel / Managing Director / AMSilk
 
 
  • Dated posted: August 8, 2022
  • Last modified: August 8, 2022