Economic Feasibility and Environmental Impact of Synthetic Spider Silk Production from Escherichia coli

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New Biotechnology




Science Direct

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Major ampullate spider silk represents a promising protein-based biomaterial with diverse commercial potential ranging from textiles to medical devices due to its excellent physical and thermal properties. Recent advancements in synthetic biology have facilitated the development of recombinant spider silk proteins from Escherichia coli (E. coli). This study specifically investigates the economic feasibility and environmental impact of synthetic spider silk manufacturing. Pilot scale data was used to validate an engineering process model that includes all of the required sub-processing steps for synthetic fiber manufacture: production, harvesting, purification, drying, and spinning. Modeling was constructed modularly to support assessment of alternative downstream processing technologies. The techno-economic analysis indicates a minimum sale price from pioneer and optimized E. coli plants of $761 kg−1 and $23 kg−1 with greenhouse gas emissions of 572 kg CO2-eq. kg−1 and 55 kg CO2-eq. kg−1, respectively. Elevated costs and emissions from the pioneer plant can be directly tied to the high material consumption and low protein yield. Decreased production costs associated with the optimized plant includes improved protein yield, process optimization, and an Nth plant assumption. Discussion focuses on the commercial potential of spider silk, the production performance requirements for commercialization, and the impact of alternative technologies on the system.

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