09/16/2020 | Universität Stuttgart | News

Building materials like insect exoskeletons

The Carl Zeiss Foundation supports a project to research chitin as a basis for smart materials

Chitin is the main component of the exoskeletons of insects, spiders, and crustaceans and ensures, for example, that an insect exoskeleton is both robust and flexible. A research group led by Prof. Sabine Laschat at the University of Stuttgart wants to use chitin and its derivatives to develop materials in a water-based process that are suitable for special applications in the construction industry to reduce energy consumption in a sustainable manner. The Carl Zeiss Foundation is supporting the project with about EUR two million as part of its “Perspectives” funding line.

Schematic representation of the processing of chitin materials. 

Photo: University of Stuttgart/Institutes

Proceeding step-by-step

A key challenge for the technical use of chitin is to transform it into a form that is, at the nanoscale, ordered but that can be processed as a fluid. This is to be investigated in several steps:

To begin with, the researchers want to “reprogram” the raw material chitin with the help of microorganisms, so that modified sugar monomers can be incorporated into the growing polymer chain and tailor-made chitin copolymers of modifiable structural and mechanical properties can be produced. These chitin derivatives are to be made processable via complex fluids (colloidal chitin solutions, lyotropic liquid crystalline solutions, and hydrogels). By means of controlled dehydration, mineralization, and blowing agents, the resulting complex fluids will be processed into solid foams, composites, or coatings with an adjustable bending stiffness that are suitable for additive manufacturing. Finally, first prototypes of innovative building materials and components are to be developed and optimization rules are to be defined, for example, for acoustic absorption, thermal insulation, and compostability. 

Further information


Expert contact:

Prof. Dr. Sabine Laschat
University of Stuttgart
Institute of Organic Chemistry
phone +49 711 685 64268

Media contact:

Andrea Mayer-Grenu
Scientific Consultant, Research Publications
Tel.: +49 711 685-82176