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2020-01-27

Global Food Summit: Protein and natural antibiotics from lobster shells

Lobsters, shrimps, crabs - their meat is considered a delicacy by many people. But during preparation, residues remain - the hard, indigestible shells. Worldwide, between six and ten million tons of this waste are produced every year. Waste? Not at all. Rather, it is a valuable raw material that is still largely unused. 

The young Canadian company Cigala Tech wants to produce protein for human consumption in addition to the coveted chitin, which can be used to make ink for 3D printers, for example. The company is also working on obtaining the natural antibiotic COS, which is used specifically in pig fattening. This is especially important in countries like Canada, where broad-spectrum antibiotics are banned in animal feed. Professor Thomas Brück of the Technical University of Munich plans to talk about new ways of exploiting this treasure at the next Global Food Summit in Munich in March.

Science and industry have long since recognized the usefulness of this supposed waste. Until now, the main focus has been on extracting the chitin contained in high concentrations in the shells. This is used to produce a chemical substance (polymer), particularly in Asia, which is used in the manufacture of filters, films, wound dressings and diet pills, among other things. Now, CigalaTech Ltd, a company based in the eastern Canadian city of Charlottetown on the Atlantic coast, has developed a new process that enables shellfish residues to be recycled even more extensively and, above all, in a more environmentally friendly way than before. 

The location was deliberately chosen because more than half of the world's Atlantic lobster is caught in the region. Much of it is exported to Asia, already processed and packaged in cans. A correspondingly large number of shells are produced in the process. A single company in the region generates about 4000 tons of shell waste per year. 

The vice president of CigalaTech is Professor Thomas Brück, who will provide new insights into his company's activities at the Global Food Summit. Professor Brück dismisses concerns from animal rights activists that improved use of lobster shells could create increased demand and allow lobsters to be caught beyond their conservation period. Closed seasons and fishing seasons are strictly regulated and monitored in Canada, Brück says.

The scientist initially worked in the biochemical industry after studying chemistry, biochemistry and molecular medicine in the United Kingdom and the United States. In 2011, he was appointed to the Werner von Siemens Chair of Synthetic Biotechnology at the Technical University of Munich. The chair focuses on the design of sustainable biotechnological processes for the conversion of residual biomass into platform and specialty chemicals.