YnFx Sustainable Conversations

Ulrich Scherbel – CEO of AMSilk

Our recent interaction with Ulrich Scherbel, CEO of AMSilk, talks about the company’s innovative bio-fabricated silk material, its features, applications, and the company’s future plans.

AMSilk, world's first industrial supplier of environmentally friendly silk biopolymers

2023-03-16 03:28:16 – Germany

Germany-based AMSilk is the world's first industrial supplier of synthetic silk biopolymers, which was founded in 2008. The Company develops and produces high-performance materials based on spider silk and is currently in the scale-up phase. Through its adaptable solutions, the Company strives to make smart biotech materials a part of daily life. Furthermore, AMSilk’s smart biotech materials outperform existing, fossil-based products due to their optimal performance and favorable environmental effect, as well as their adaptability to a wide range of significant applications.

AMSilk aims to expand the use of its vegan, biodegradable, recyclable, and biocompatible products, minimizing their reliance on the planet's natural resources. AMSilk's primary material of spider silk is biocompatible, chemically and mechanically robust. High-performance sports apparel and cutting-edge biological advancements are already being fueled by AMSilk biotech materials. AMSilk biotech materials are already revolutionizing products like high-performance sports apparel and cutting-edge biological advancements.

Our recent interaction with Ulrich Scherbel, CEO of AMSilk, talks about the company’s innovative bio-fabricated silk material, its features, applications, and the company’s future plans.

YnFx: What is the story behind AMSilk?

Scherbel: In 2008, the founders of AMSilk started with the idea to make spider thread available in industrial quantities. Spider silk is one of the most fascinating materials on earth: two and a half times stronger than steel since ever used for medical applications and is extremely versatile. But spiders are cannibals, farming them to produce silk on an industrial scale turned out to be impossible. So, for a long time, it was the holy grail of material science to find a way to replicate and produce the spider's thread "without the spider". AMSilk basically solved this challenge by inventing a technology to produce spider silk on an industrial scale by using biotechnology. 

Thus, AMSilk was one of the prime movers to invent large structural proteins for products that can replace other chemical products or products of animal origin.  Ever since at AMSilk, we have believed that nature offers better alternatives to existing materials with biofabricated materials. 

YnFx: How is the spider silk obtained?

Scherbel: AMSilk’s unique bio-fabrication process uses the blueprint for silk from the genome of a spider and reprograms microorganisms to enable them to produce silk polymers. The production process uses bacteria and biotechnology fermentation processes. The microbes are grown in large-scale stainless-steel vessels, fed with natural and renewable plant-based raw materials. This creates ‘vegan silk’ which and does not involve any natural farming processes. AMSilk turns spider silk into man-made silk formulations, including fibers and yarns, sprayable formulations, hydrogels, and silk powder for textiles, medical use, or consumer goods.

YnFx: What are the distinctive features of the spider silk fiber?

Scherbel: Spider thread is nature’s most tear-resistant and versatile material and is two times stronger than steel. AMSilk’s silk proteins have higher purity and strength compared to traditional mulberry spinner silk and are extremely versatile; By programming material properties at a molecular level, we can customize them according to the final application or properties required. Thus, AMSilk can deliver silk material for a variety of applications ranging from super fine yarn for the silk-like outer fabric to super resistant yarns for advanced materials such as composites or sports shoes. The fibers enhance skin comfort with bacteriostatic and hygienic properties and are thinner and more delicate than the products of mulberry silk. In medical use, recent research shows that AMSilk’s engineered silk implant coatings can prevent infection and reduce post-operative complications of implants.

YnFx: What is the environmental footprint of spider silk fiber?

Scherbel: AMSilk fibers have been designed with their end of life in mind. They are completely biodegradable, taking just a few months to break down the silk in seawater and on land. As compostable products, they are free of microplastics, with no microplastic washout during the product life; they can be fully recycled (without down-cycling) and re-spun. 

Compared to the production of traditional mulberry silk, no animals are killed at any given time, which makes our products truly vegan. In addition, water depletion and energy consumption of AMSilk production are much lower than that of traditional silk. As we are not using fossil-based carbon AMSilk products, we outperform existing materials in many ways.

YnFx: What are the areas of application of bio-fabricated AMSilk materials?

Scherbel: The molecular scalability of the protein properties provides a technology platform for endless applications as the materials can be adapted to the needs of various market segments. Firstly, silk materials can be used in commercial textiles – including footwear and garments, bags and wristbands, home textiles, and even composites in automobiles. AMSilk’s silk materials can also be used in the MedTech industry – as a medical implant coating for breast implants or surgical mesh, for wound care and medical skin care, as well as cosmetics but also for consumer goods like dishwashers and laundry care products. 

Since we work with industrial processes, we can offer very consistent quality.

YnFx: What are the key milestones achieved by AMSilk till date?

Scherbel: AMSilk was founded in 2008 and, as of today, holds more than 185 patents. The Company closed a EUR 29 million Series C fundraising in May 2021 and together with a strong network of new and existing shareholders. AMSilk has successfully established itself as one of the leading bio-materials companies in the world. In the last years, AMSilk could enter into several development agreements with leading global brands powered by the successful proof of industrial large-scale protein production.

YnFx: What are the future plans of the company?

Scherbel: We are on the way to successfully transforming from a silk material company to a world-leading technology platform for structural proteins. AMSilk plans to expand capacity beyond 20,000 tons scale a year and extend its production network outside of Europe within the next four to five years. The focus is now on bioindustries and how to scale up, commercialize innovations and finance them over time.

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