We’re developing enzymes that make nylon production cleaner, safer and more efficient.
Nylon manufacture: a hazardous process
Since its introduction in the 1930s, nylon has become a household name. Its production and sale has grown into a multi-billion dollar industry. While it is readily associated with products such as women’s stockings, nylon refers to a much broader family of synthetic polymers with applications including food packaging, carpeting, musical instrument strings and even car manufacture.
Nylon polymers are made up of building blocks that link together to form a repeating chain. The properties of the final polymer chain depend on the building block used. Some of these building blocks are man-made, while others occur in nature.
The production of nylon polymers can be hazardous. They are manufactured using volatile chemicals and harsh treatments. Even as recently as 2012, an explosion at a nylon production facility resulted in the death of two people.
Looking to nature
Our scientists are always looking for new enzymes in nature that could have an impact on the way we make chemicals.
There are several reasons we do this. Firstly, having taken the time to evolve for specific functions in nature, enzymes are often very efficient. Secondly, as they are proteins, they are more environmentally friendly than traditional chemical alternatives.
They function in water rather than volatile organic solvents, alleviating the need for fossil fuel derived materials, and often operate at ambient temperatures and pressure, keeping costs down. They are also biodegradable, non-toxic and nowadays can be produced sustainably on a large scale.
Considering these advantages, enzymes have the potential to revolutionise nylon manufacturing processes in a safe, efficient and environmentally-sustainable manner.
Enzymatic nylon production
We have identified several enzymes that can be used to produce nylon building blocks. We’re working with these enzymes to make a variety of different nylon building blocks and looking to apply the technology in industrial enzymatic nylon production.
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