Three engineers, including two Indian Americans, develop bulletproof coatings from nature

indica News Bureau-

As the world is focused on tackling the coronavirus pandemic, we shouldn’t forget another persisting crisis that looms around – global warming.

That’s why, it is important to keep working towards solutions that bring down the country’s carbon footprint, regardless of the current situation.

In this regard, three engineers, including two Indian-origin, are set to produce eco-friendly polymers using material from shrimps, mushrooms and other organisms to produce high-impact multilayered coatings body armor for soldiers.

From the University of Houston, these three engineers are using a substance called chitin – a derivative of glucose found in the cellular walls of arthropods and fungi – and 3D printing techniques to produce the coatings, the varsity said in a statement.

“Chitin is a commonly available material that could be processed and used in some products that now require petroleum-based plastics”, said Indian-American Alamgir Karim, Dow Chair Professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, to PTI.

“What if we could process these materials and get them to a certain level of performance, so we could do some really good things in the plastics world?” he asked.

“They would be biodegradable by design, so they could decompose and return to Mother Nature.”

Venkatesh Balan, another Indian-American, assistant professor of engineering technology, along with Megan Robertson, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, are co-principal investigators.

Although their initial applications are focused on military equipment, Karim points out that it can be used on a wide range of applications beyond the military, and offer great environmental benefits.

Chitin is the primary component of cell walls in fungi and the exoskeletons of arthropods. It can be harvested and processed to produce chitosan, which is easier to handle than the brittle chitin.

Megan Robertson aims to alter the atomic composition at the surface of the chitosan so it can be enhanced on how it interacts with the functional layers. Her research includes designing sustainable and biodegradable polymers derived from renewable resources.

That enhanced compatibility between the chitosan and the polymer will improve the coating’s ability to trap gas or absorb the impact from a projectile, she said.

That’s where Karim comes in – he is engineering a multilayer system that will be comprised of a hardened impact-resistant layer; an energy-absorbing crush layer reminiscent of the way modern cars are designed to crumple on impact, safeguarding the passenger capsule; a layer to absorb toxic gas, with charcoal nanoparticles dispersed in the chitosan; and a textile adhesion layer, which will bind the coating to canvas and other textiles.

Bio-engineering like this project is not simply a great idea, but rather a necessity to build a sustainable world.

“It is a very good, environmentally friendly project,” Karim said, and one that will have applications for the automobile, construction, and other industries.