Fish Radio
May 16, 2013

Chitin from crab, shrimp shells Credit:

Chitin from crab, shrimp shells

This is Fish Radio. I’m Laine Welch – Shells from crabs and shrimp can replace most plastics.  More on bio-materials after this –

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The shells of crabs, shrimp, lobsters  and other crustaceans are being turned into bio-plastics for food packaging. The shells contain a compound called chitin, which is also found in insects and fungi.  It is one of the most abundant biodegradable materials in the world.

Now, with funds from their government, scientists at the Norwegian Institute of Food, Fisheries and Aquaculture Research are  turning chitin into so called “active” packaging  aimed at reducing plastics made from petro-chemicals.  The products can range from hard bio-plastics to thin films that cover food products.  The food sector alone, including beverages, accounts for nearly two-thirds of global packaging from non-biodegradable plastics.

Chitin has a rich research history for use in agriculture , medicine and other fields.  It can be used as a seed treatment and when added to soil, works as a bio-pesticide. It increases blooms in plants, and extends the life of cut flowers and Christmas trees.

The US Forest Service has conducted research on chitin to control pathogens in pine trees and increase resin pitch outflow which resists pine beetle infestation.

Chitin   can also be used in water filtration as it causes fine sediment particles to bind together. Tests show that chitin combined with sand filtration removes up to 99% of turbidity in water.

Chitin’s properties also cause blood to clot rapidly, and it is used in bandages by the US and the UK military.

And get this – scientists have recently developed a polyurethane coating that heals its own scratches. When added to traditional coatings to protect paint on cars, for example, the chitin reacts chemically to ultra violet light and smoothes scratches in less than one hour.  

Finally, chitin appears to limit fat absorption which would make it useful for weight loss – but more research needs to be done on that.  Estimates say more than 25 billion tons of chitin from seafood is dumped each year.   But it won’t be long before the incredible substance is put to better uses.

Fish Radio is also brought to you by Ocean Beauty Seafoods, an Alaska corporation proudly supporting Alaska’s coastal communities and the Alaskans who depend on fishing for their livelihoods and culture.    In Kodiak, I’m Laine Welch.