Glass is an essential component of everyday human life, from eyeglasses and windows to drinking glasses. However, the widespread use of glass, which is durable but not fully biodegradable and cannot naturally neutralize, poses long-term environmental hazards and social burdens.

A new approach – sustainable glass

To address this issue, a research team led by Professor YAN Xuehai from the Institute of Process Engineering of the Chinese Academy of Sciences has developed a type of sustainable glass derived from biological sources. This glass, made from biological amino acids and peptides, is biodegradable, meaning it can be suitable for biological recycling.

The challenge – production of biodegradable glass

Conventional glass, such as inorganic commercial glass or organic poly(methyl methacrylate) glass, is biologically incompatible and difficult to break down in the natural environment. Producing sustainable glass of biological origin poses a challenge due to the low thermal stability of biomolecules. The particles easily decompose at the high temperatures required in the glass production process.

Research – production of biomolecular glass

The researchers utilized chemically-modified amino acids and peptides to create biomolecular glass with biodegradable properties using the conventional heating-quenching technique. They studied the glass-forming ability and the kinetic and thermodynamic parameters of the material, as well as its in vitro and in vivo effectiveness.

Results – a unique combination of properties

Biomolecular glass based on amino acid or peptide derivatives exhibited a distinctive combination of functional and environmental characteristics. These included excellent optical properties, good mechanical properties, flexible processability, and the required biodegradability and ability for biorecycling. – The concept of biomolecular glass has the potential to serve as a sustainable alternative to commercial glass or plastics, contributing to a sustainable future. However, biomolecular glass is still in the laboratory testing phase and has a long way to go before it becomes a commercial solution – stated Professor Xuehai.

Continuous development

Regular plastic bottles or polyester clothing release microplastic particles when washed, polluting oceans and harming organisms. Glass, on the other hand, is a safe material and ideal for food storage. Unlike plastic, it can be recycled repeatedly without loss of quality. Moreover, melting broken glass items requires significantly less energy than producing new products.

Glass plays a crucial role not only in architecture but also in optics and various branches of electronics, thanks to its properties and advancements in processing methods. With progress in coating technologies, glass has acquired additional properties such as antimicrobial or self-cleaning capabilities.

Miłosz Magrzyk