WATCH: Dr. Karen Wooley on the future of sustainable, biodegradable plastics.

Dr. Karen Wooley wants to find the next iteration of sustainable, biodegradable plastics. She’s looking to the insect world for part of the answer.  

Wooley, who holds the W. T. Doherty-Welch Chair in Chemistry and is a University Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University, spoke as part of the Smart Lecture series at IHMC. If you couldn’t be with us in person, watch her lecture here. 

Her lecture shared the latest efforts to support the commercial translation of carbohydrate-derived degradable plastics to harvesting of building blocks from insect feedstocks.  

As scaled-up production of biomass-based biodegradable polymers grows, focus has turned to harvesting the naturally-derived building blocks from black soldier flies, to avoid competition with resources that are important to food, fuel, and construction. The goal is not just improving sustainability, but digestibility should the product end up in an animal or human.  

The inspiration for the work has links to the world of orthopedic medicine, where the mismatches in tensile strength, functionality and longevity between bone and materials like metal or polymer-based screws, rods or inserts, led to the focus on finding bioplastics that could substitute.  

Watch our video recap here to learn more.