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Starch-Based Fibers for Bandages and Paper Developed

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A graduate student in food science at Pennsylvania State University in University Park has developed a fibrous material from ordinary food starch that can be woven into bandages and household paper products. A provisional patent has been filed for the discovery by Lingyan Kong, working under food science professor Greg Ziegler, with the research funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Starch is a complex carbohydrate made of the polymers amylose and amylopectin. It is commonly found in vegetables like potatoes and corn, as well as as other plants with tubers or roots, and readily sold in consumer products, such as corn starch.

When mixed with water, starch forms a gel or paste, but not fibers. Kong’s process combined the use of solvents that maintained the molecular structure of the starch, with an electro-spinning device that stretched the starch solution into fibers. This device uses a high voltage electrical charge to jolt the starch in the solution to overcome surface tension, and stretch the droplets of starch into long strands.

Bandage dressings made from starch fibers would be biodegradable, and thus absorbed as glucose, a natural substance already in the body. “Starch is easily biodegradable, so bandages made from it would, over time, be absorbed by the body,” says Kong. “So, you wouldn’t have to remove them.”

During experiments on starch fibers, Kong and his Penn State colleagues successfully used various concentrations of amylose polymers ranging from 25 to 100 percent. Kong notes that because starch is so abundant, it is less expensive than other materials currently used to form fibers. “Starch is the most abundant and also the least expensive of natural polymers,” says Kong.

Cellulose is one of those materials found today in polymers and fibers, which is typically derived from trees. Petroleum-based polymers are also used as raw materials. However, materials based on cellulose and petroleum are subject to sharp changes in market prices — as seen in gasoline for example — as well as carrying environmental costs.

Starch-based fibers, however, could be less expensive and more environmentally friendly. In addition to bandages or wound dressings, starch-based fibers could also be woven into consumer paper products like napkins or tissue paper.

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