A new study says crustaceans extracted from shrimp, mushrooms and other organisms could lead to a new 3D-printed multilayer polymer coating to protect soldiers from bullets, lasers, toxic gases, microorganisms and other hazards,media New Atlas reported. Chitin is a major component of exoskeletons such as crustaceans and insects, but it is also found in the cell walls of many other organisms, including nematodes, protozoa and fungi. In recent years, it has been used more and more in the development of agriculture, medicine and new materials.
Now, a team of researchers at the University of Houston, led by Alamgir Karim, a professor of chemistry and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, is working on how to convert chitin into a bio-based, biodegradable, high-impact coating for military applications. With $600,000 from the U.S. Department of Defense, the team’s goal is not only to produce lighter, tougher body armor, but also to develop a printed coating that can withstand projectile impact, as well as lasers, microbes and poison gas.
Chitin is a derivative of glucose, and its long-chain polymer structure is fixed together by acetyl-based groups. When these groups are removed, chitin becomes shell polysaccharides, a less fiber that is easier to handle and is usually sold as a dietary supplement. Although most commonly harvested from chitin, the University of Houston team preferred to develop mushrooms as a source of chitin because they allow edgy more consistent and standardized aggregation processes.
To turn the crustacean into a practical coating, the team has been adjusting its atomic surface structure to help it form a functional layer. These layers can be printed in 3D to form layers of different functions, including hard impact-resistant layers, absorbent layers like the folds on motor vehicles, layers that absorb toxic gases using charcoal nanoparticles, and textile layers for adhesion.
While the goal of the study is to produce multiple protective coatings for military personnel, the team says the project should also be used in automotive, construction and other industries.