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Shells from Crustaceans Used by Montreal Researchers to Make Bioplastic

McGill University researchers have patented their process which initially could be used for disposable cutlery, straws and single-use bags. 


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Within the last five years, I have blogged about two university teams—Harvard University’s Wyss Institute and the U.K.’s University of Nottingham—that have been working on the production of chitosan, a man-made bioplastic derived from the organic compound chitin, which is extracted from the shells of crustaceans like shrimp and lobster. Now, a team from Montreal’s McGill University has joined the ‘club’.

According to Audrey Moore, an associate professor of chemistry at McGill, it has been typically difficult to make chitosan durable or in mass quantities. This team’s ‘breakthrough’ patented process, however, involves making chitosan with a longer molecular chains, which makes it more robust.

This team primarily has been working with shrimp shells, which they grind into a fine powder. “Globally, every year we generate six to eight million tonnes of these kind of crustaceous waste, and we’re not using it for anything, really,” said Moore. She noted that the potential applications include straws, disposable cutlery, single-use plastic bags, food packaging and even materials for 3D printing.

However, the team is also looking into higher-end applications like biomedical applications. Their current focus: making the substance even more malleable before attempting to get it to market.