Fibroin protein derived from silk fibres has been extensively studied with exciting outcomes for a number of potential advanced biomaterial applications. However, one of the major challenges in applications lies in engineering fibroin into a desired form using a convenient production technology. In this paper, fabrication of ultrafine powder from eri silk is reported. The silk cocoons were degummed and the extracted silk fibres were then chopped into snippets prior to attritor and air jet milling. Effects of process control agents, material load and material to water ratio during attritor milling were studied. Compared to dry and dry–wet attritor milling, wet process emerged as the preferred option as it caused less colour change and facilitated easy handling. Ultrafine silk powder with a volume based particle size d(0.5) of around 700 nm could be prepared following the sequence of chopping ➔ wet attritor milling ➔ spray drying ➔ air jet milling. Unlike most reported powder production methods, this method could fabricate silk particles in a short time without any pre-treatment on degummed fibre. Moreover, the size range obtained is much smaller than that previously produced using standard milling devices. Reduction in fibre tenacity either shortened the milling time even further or helped bypassing media milling to produce fine powder directly through jet milling. However, such reduction in fibre strength did not help in increasing the ultimate particle fineness. The study also revealed that particle density and particle morphology could be manipulated through appropriate changes in the degumming process.
Graphical Abstract: Fabrication of eri silk powder using attritor and jet milling is reported. Volume based particle size d(0.5) of around 700 nm could be prepared following the sequence chopping ➔ wet attritor milling ➔ spray drying ➔ air jet milling. No pre-treatments were used and the particle size range obtained is much smaller than that previously produced using standard milling devices. Particle density morphology could be manipulated through appropriate changes of cocoon degumming conditions.