Philipp Stössel, who published his research in the journal Biomacromolecules this month, was able to spin his new fibres into yarn from which textiles can be manufactured, according to an ETH Zurich report.
Using slaughterhouse waste including skin, bone and tendons, Stössel discovered that adding an organic solvent to an aqueous gelatine solution resulted in a formless mass that he was able to press into an elastic thread.
Working with the materials science laboratory EMPA in St Gallen, Stössel refined his method to a point where he was able to produce 200 metres of thread a minute, twisting 1,000 fibres into a yarn, from which he was able to knit a glove.
The extremely fine fibres are half the thickness of a human hair, and microscope images show them to be filled with cavities, which researchers think may account for their good insulation properties, similar to merino wool.
Stössel’s continuing research will examine how to make the fibre more water-resistant; at the moment sheep’s wool is still superior.
The idea of creating fibre from gelatine dates back more than one hundred years, but the development of synthetic fibres pushed biological protein fibres out of the market during the 20th century.
But in recent years there has been an increased demand for natural fibres made from renewable, biodegradable fibres.
Commercial production of the new fibre will only be possible if researchers can find partners and funding, said Stössel.