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article imageNylon-like material made from shrimps

By Tim Sandle     Mar 3, 2013 in Science
Scientists are investigating how the shell waste from crustaceans could be turned into different types of 'bioplastics'.
The shell waste produced by the seafood industry, from shrimps and lobsters, has been a long-standing problem for the seafood industry. Most of the waste has to be burnt as it poses a health hazard, such as from microbial pathogens.
A new research project may, however, have a new application for the discarded shells. The research is being driven by an EU funded research project called ChiBio. The project aims to convert crustacean shell waste into basic building blocks, or monomers, that would serve as precursors for plastics.
This involves taking the shells and turning them into chitosan, a commercially valuable compound with a myriad of applications ranging from use as a biopesticide to biomedical solutions (and also, bizarrely, cosmetics as the Digital Journal reported last year).
Chitosan is made by treating shrimp and other crustacean shells with the alkali sodium hydroxide. The European project aims to go further than current chitosan applications. According to the A European Research Center news bulletin, using a bio-refinery, the researchers are seeking to break down the chitin present in shells into its basic components, such as the sugar monomer glucosamine. These components can then be further processed, for example, into basic building blocks used in the synthesis of polymers such as nylon or polyester.
Dr Lars Wiemann, from the Project Group BioCat at the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB, is quoted by Science Omega as saying: "The shell waste contains remains of biological material including proteins and lipids. If it is dumped, germs can start to grow such as harmful bacteria which can generate toxic components and bad odours. The shell waste therefore has to be thoroughly burned, which is very expensive and inefficient as the material is mainly solid calcium carbonate."
One concern should be from chemical pollutants as a by-products from the process. However, the researchers believe that the process would be environmentally sustainable, as they sate in a separate research note: "The environmental impact of the process chain will be evaluated by a cradle-to-product life cycle analysis."
Further studies will indicate if discarded shrimp shells can provide the basis for a new supply of materials.
More about nylon, Shrimps, Biotechnology, Chitosan, Shellfish