Crustacean shells. (Photo: Biotech Surinda / Fraunhofer IGB)
Scientists seek to use crustacean shells to manufacture chemicals
Monday, January 23, 2012, 01:50 (GMT + 9)
The Straubing Project Group BioCat of the Fraunhofer IGB together with international partners is working to develop new methods of generating specialty and fine chemicals from chitin-rich fishing industry waste.
More than 750,000 tonnes of shells of shellfish, crabs and shrimps are wasted yearly in the EU alone. Instead, they could be exploited for their chitin, a biopolymer also found in insects and fungi, which consists of nitrogenous sugar molecules strung together in a polymer chain.
In the European Union (EU)-funded ChiBio Project, researchers led by the Straubing Project want to develop new methods to use shells as a raw material for chemicals and new materials. The consortium comprising research and industrial partners from Norway, Austria, the Czech Republic, Ireland as well as Tunisia and Indonesia is focusing on an integrated approach.
“In the manner of a biorefinery we want to develop or optimize various material and energetic uses for the waste material crustacean shells and thus to utilize the residual material as efficiently and completely as possible”, explicated professor Volker Sieber, coordinator of ChiBio and head of the BioCat Project Group in Straubing, Uni-protokolle reports.
|ChiBio logo (Image: igb.fraunhofer.de)
The remaining crab meat must be removed from the shells in such a way that scientists can ferment them directly and use them for energetic purposes, said Dr Lars Wiemann, ChiBio project manager in Straubing. The purified chitin can then be split into nitrogenous sugar glucosamine using enzymes or microorganisms.
At the Fraunhofer IGB, chitinases have already been isolated from bacteria that catalyse this splitting process. But it will be very tricky to turn glucosamine into such basic components or platform chemicals from which chemists can make various new, bio-based polymers, said Wiemann.
At least two functional groups that can be combined catalytically are needed so that individual monomers can be linked to form a polymer. Scientists seek to combine chemical steps with biotechnological processes, noted professor Volker Sieber.
The point is to ferment all the bio-based by-products together with the initially separated proteins and fats (from the meat of the shellfish and crustaceans) to yield biogas as a regenerative energy carrier.
The EU Research Proposal ChiBio Development of an Integrated Biorefinery for Processing Chitin-rich Biowaste to Specialty and Fine Chemicals received 14 out of 15 possible points -- the best result in the topic Novel Biotechnological Approaches for Transforming Industrial and/or Municipal Biowaste into Bioproducts SICA.
Funds worth EUR 3 million became available in November 2011 and will run for the three-year duration of the project.
The Project Group BioCat is part of the Straubing Centre of Science at the Centre of Excellence for Renewable Resources and attached to the Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart.
By Natalia Real