Spider-inspired Oxford spinout technology wins $100,000 top prize from US sustainability organisation

Photo shows: Think twice before you squish that spider. It's more useful than you think

Spintex Engineering, the University of Oxford spinout company that manufactures biodegradable textile fibres for use in fashion and high-performance materials, has won $100,000 to support its technology.

The Ray of Hope Prize, from the Biomimicry Institute,  a Montana-based not-for-profit founded in 2006 supporting nature-inspired solutions for a healthy planet,  is awarded each year to the world’s top nature-inspired startup after 10 finalist teams conclude a 10-week accelerator program.

This year, Spintex and nine other participating companies from across the world (including Biohm, a London-based  bio-based building materials company that makes insulation made from mycelium, the “root” structure of mushrooms), were selected from a pool of 301 applicants from 49 countries.

By learning from nature, companies like Spintex are creating new products, materials, and processes that solve fundamental sustainability challenges.

Spiders create one of the world’s strongest and most adaptable materials—spider silk.

The secret to a spider’s ability to create silk lies within their spinnerets, specialised organs that turn the liquid silk gel held in the spider’s abdomen into a solid thread. After years of research into this unique mechanism, Spintex has managed to mimic the spider’s amazing ability. The company has created a process to spin textile fibres from a liquid gel, at room temperature, with water and biodegradable textile fibres as the only outputs.

The textile industry is searching for sustainable technologies and solutions that will reduce waste, greenhouse gas emissions, and pollution, and enable a circular economy. Spintex’s technology could replace not only silk used in fashion, but also oil-derived synthetic fibres. They estimate that their process is 1,000 times more efficient than an equivalent synthetic fibres.

As they scale, their goal is to expand upon their textile capabilities, creating high-performance textiles with properties, such as stretch and embedded colour, all while creating biodegradable and non-bioaccumulating textiles.

Alex Greenhalgh, CEO and co-founder of Spintex, said: “Going through the Ray of Hope program has been a fantastic experience. It’s been wonderful to see such a wide variety of great startups focused on using Nature’s lessons to build the future. All of us at Spintex are deeply honored to be selected as the winners of the 2021 prize and are so grateful for the opportunity given to us.”