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How Shrimp & Mushrooms are Contributing to Bulletproof Coatings

June 24, 2020

Jennifer Woodson is a textile expert who maintains a blog on sustainability & textiles.

University of Houston Dow Chair Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, Alamgir Karim, along with two other UH engineers, are leading research to develop a bio-based, biodegradable bulletproof coating.

Chitin is a derivative of the simple sugar, glucose, can be obtained from exoskeleton of arthropods, insects, and mollusks (i.e. scorpions, lobsters), the scales of fish, as well as fungi such as mushrooms. The chitin is processed to produce chitosan, which is much easier to work with than chitin, which is a very brittle material. The researchers at the University of Houston are using 3D printing techniques to create a multi-layered coating that could be used to protect soldiers from high-impact objects such as bullets or shrapnel.

While sustainable, bio-based materials are not new to the material industry (corn and sugarcane have recently become go-to sources for bio-materials), an innovative ballistic material that is also bio-based and sustainable will be a first of its kind. As the chitin is derived from a commonly available material and is also naturally biodegradable, the coating is sustainable (due to the chitin being derived from an animal, it cannot be considered vegan).

The U.S. Department of Defense is also interested in the possibilities of chitin, and has awarded Alamgir Karim, Venkatesh, and Megan Robertson a grant to complete the study. The multi-layer films being developed for the military are required to be "tough, durable and ... capable of resisting an impact from projectiles or lasers while simultaneously absorbing toxic gas".

The three researchers have important contributions that together, will create a 3D printed "multilayer system that will be comprised of a hardened impact-resistant layer; an energy-absorbing crush layer reminiscent of the way modern cars are designed to crumple on impact, safeguarding the passenger capsule; a layer to absorb toxic gas, with charcoal nanoparticles dispersed in the chitosan; and a textile adhesion layer, which will bind the coating to canvas and other textiles."

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