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Computer based modeling for improved protein-based superabsorbents from waste

One of the main aims of the Waste Refinery Excellence Center is to produce new useful materials from waste. One example is zygomycetes funghi that can produce a variety of products when degrading lignocellulose, except fuel compounds also chitosan and protein materials which can be act as superabsorbents can be produced. The aim of this project is to model the protein superabsorbents produced and to propose treatments of the material to enhance the absorbing properties.

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The aim of the project is to develop superabsorbents based on fughi proteins (zygometes proteins). A secondary aim is to obtain a better understanding of the mechanisms behind protein based superabsorbents. In a later stage the knowledge obtained can also be used to model carbohydrate based superabsorbents that can be formed by chitosan which is a main component of the cell walls of zygomycetes.

Our focus is the relationship between structure and water uptake capacity of proteins of different compositions, e.g., the influence of any secondary structure elements on the water absorbtion potential. To obtain insight in the these questions the three-dimensional structure of several different proteins is modelled, both with the experimental structure and with a "random coil" structure which we create using the "amorphous cell" method of Prof. Theodorou in Athens with whom we have a collaboration.