Enabling manufacturing of Functional Nanomaterials using SynBio

Project: Research

Project Details


"This year, the global demand for nanomaterial, which is already a multi-billion$ industry, will have grown 2.5-fold since 2012. Current nanomaterials production methods are at least 1000 times more wasteful when compared to the production of bulk and fine chemicals. Consequently there is an urgent need to develop green production methods for nanomaterials which can allow greater control over materials properties, yet require less energy, produce less waste (i.e. eco-friendly) and are cost-effective.

Nature produces more than 60 distinct inorganic nanomaterials (e.g. CaCO3, Fe3O4, silica) on the largest of scales through self-assembly under ambient conditions (biomineralisation). Although biological methods for nanomaterials synthesis (e.g. using microorganisms or complex enzymes) are effective in reducing environmental burden, they are expensive, inefficient and/or currently not scalable to industrial production.

We will adopt a synthetic biology (SynBio) approach, which is one of the EPSRC's core strategic themes, by harnessing the biological principles to design advanced nanomaterials leading to novel manufacturing methods. SynBio is a very powerful tool for the production of high-precision advanced functional nanomaterials and our approach marries two of the "8 great technologies for the future" ("Synthetic Biology" and "Advanced Nanomaterials"). Instead of using cells or microbes, our SynBio strategy uses synthetic molecules (SynBio additives) inspired from biomineralisation. SynBio produces a wide range of well-defined and tunable nanomaterials under mild (ambient) conditions, quickly and with little waste. Our SynBio approach offers the potential for high-yields, like the traditional chemical precipitation method, together with the precision, customisation, efficiency and low waste of biomineralisation.

The bulk of research on bioinspired synthesis of nanomaterials has been performed at small scales and, although there are good opportunities for developing nanomaterials manufacturing based on bioinspired approaches, there are no reports on larger-scale investigations. Adopting a bioinspired SynBio approach, this project will enable the controlled synthesis and scalability of silica and magnetic nanoparticles (SNP and MNP) which are worth ~$11 billion globally. These methods are far more amenable to scale-up and can truly be considered 'green'. This SynBio process can reduce the manufacturing carbon footprint (by >90%), thus providing a significant cost benefit to industry."
Effective start/end date1/12/1630/11/20


  • EPSRC (Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council): £399,557.00