Climate disrupted: chitin and keratin bioplastics

Local weather Disrupted: Chitin and Keratin Bioplastics

If we plan on persevering with to make plastics previous the purpose that oil is now not worthwhile, simply accessible or socially acceptable, we might want to flip to extra ecologically sustainable supplies. Like all the things in our industrial world, we could finally study that these items are literally dangerous to our ecosystem in a technique or one other, however it’s no less than value contemplating how we’d use chitin and keratin in manufacturing.


Wanting past flora, we will discover biopolymers within the more durable components of fungi, mollusks, arthropods, crustaceans and bugs. Chitin is a glucose-derived polymer that makes up cell partitions, scales, beaks, shells and exoskeletons within the aforementioned creatures and has been used to thicken paper, in addition to meals. As a result of it’s present in extra in the case of crustacean waste, it’s more and more appeared to for a rising variety of functions, together with as a fertilizer to activate plant protection mechanisms. A associated polymer is chitosan, obtained from chitin handled with an alkaline substance, like sodium hydroxide.

1.2m, 5.2kg turbine blade fabricated solely with cellulose and chitosan, essentially the most ubiquitous biopolymers on earth and produced in giant quantities in nearly each ecosystem. Each components are obtained from by-products of the business, leading to manufacturing with damaging ecological footprint. Picture courtesy of Singapore College of Know-how and Design.

Although chitin- and chitosan-based plastics have been developed, industrial scale manufacturing of the supplies has but to be developed—not that plastic manufacturing ought to at all times be “industrial scale”. One startup  referred to as The Shellworks is engaged on what appears to be pretty small-scale chitin plastic manufacturing. There are additionally a lot of analysis tasks within the works devoted to 3D printing chitin supplies, in addition to Chitinous, a startup spun-out of Singapore College of Know-how and Design primarily based on some fairly attention-grabbing analysis combining chitin and cellulose.

MIT’s Mediated Matter Lab has carried out some attention-grabbing work utilizing chitin, wherein an industrial robotic arm mounted with an extruder deposited totally different mixtures of chitin-based supplies. Arthropod shells have been floor to create chitosan and mixed with water and Cyanobacteria that added such useful properties as water resistance and conductivity. Completely different mixtures of the supplies have been deposited to create constructions with useful, mechanical and optical gradients. As soon as deposited, the supplies dried and hardened within the air.


With the same toughness to chitin, keratin is the important thing structural proteins that make up hair, fingernails, feathers, claws, hooves, horns and the outer layer of pores and skin on vertebrates. Like the opposite robust structural supplies we’ve mentioned right here, researchers have explored the manufacturing of plastic supplies utilizing keratin, however with much less success, given the truth that it’s a protein and can’t be simply heated with out destroying the protein within the course of.

Local weather Disrupted: Chitin and Keratin Bioplastics

Keratin-based bioplastic movie derived from rooster feathers. Picture courtesy of the Worldwide Journal of Organic Macromolecules.

Some research have resulted in keratin-based movies, together with keratin derived from rooster feathers and sheep’s wool. Such movies may also be blended with cellulose to create a powerful bioplastic. There was some analysis into 3D printing with keratin, however much more tasks concerned in bioprinting human keratinocytes, pores and skin cells produce keratin.

Many of the pores and skin printing tasks we’ve coated on contain the deposition of keratinocytes, often to heal wounds. Examples embody the expertise developed by Poietis, work being carried out by Wake Forest, pores and skin printing analysis in Singapore, and research being performed in South Korea. Whereas this isn’t at the moment an space of analysis with these teams so far as we all know, we will no less than think about the potential for rising keratin-based polymers from bioprinted keratinocytes.

Within the subsequent submit in our sequence, we are going to talk about the prospects of recycling, the way it’s accomplished, how it may be accomplished, and the place 3D printing can match into the combination.

[Feature image courtesy of the MIT Mediated Matter Lab.]

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