Processing of chitin from crab shells and insect skeletons

Structural formula of chitin.
Structural formula of chitin
Crabs as a renewable source of chitin.
Shrimps as a renewable source of chitin.
Insect cocoons as a renewable source of chitin.
Insect cocoons as a renewable source of chitin.

Chitin is the second most abundant natural polymer on earth: about 1010-1011 tons are produced annually in nature. Due to its high bioavailability, this resource has great potential. It is formed by a variety of organisms, including fungi, insects and crabs as a structural component. Current commercial use is under-represented and focuses solely on isolation from crab shells.

Chitin isolation

Besides enzymatic hydrolysis to chitosan (see enzymatic conversion of chitin from crab shells and insect exoskeletons), our group is working on methods for isolating chitin, which are mainly based on mild chemical and enzymatic processes. Enzymatic processes include the use of individual enzymes or enzyme cocktails to remove contaminants from the chitin matrix.

In contrast, the Industrial Biotechnology Group also pursues the strategy of extracting the desired substance from the matrix by converting chitin into low-molecular chitin or chitosan. Wet-chemical methods are used with the aim of separating impurities as effectively as possible while preserving the chemical-physical properties of chitin. In this context, the preferred use of aqueous media over organic solvents, which require increased safety precautions in an industrial process, should also be mentioned.

Purification

Innovative approaches also include the transfer of purification methods from the isolation of other natural substances. For example, chemical-physical processes such as the organosolv process are also used for chitin preparation. An increase in efficiency and thus also a conservation of resources is achieved by a tailor-made process engineering design of the process. The adaptation of the purification process to the respective chitin resource is based on the use of statistical tools, which results in a reduction of waste products in the process. Any by-products are not identified as waste but as the starting point for new value creation. For example, the minerals extracted from the processing of insect and crab chitin could potentially be used as an additive in fertilizers.

The purification techniques we have developed are aimed at being able to produce the products later on in a large-scale process. The calculations required for scaling up are also part of our portfolio.

Publications

Hahn, T., Roth, A., Ji, R., Schmitt, E., Zibek, S. 2020. Chitosan production with larval exoskeletons derived from the insect protein production. in: Journal of Biotechnology, Vol. 310, pp. 62-67. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbiotec.2019.12.015

Hahn, T., Roth, A., Febel, E., Fijalkowska, M., Schmitt, E., Arsiwalla, T., Zibek, S. 2018. New methods for high-accuracy insect chitin measurement. in: Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, Vol. 98, pp. 5069-5073. Doi:10.1002/jsfa.9044

Video

bioökonomie.de – an initiative of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) – shows in the video how digitalization and innovative materials are changing the textile industry.

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Reference projects

ChitoTex – Development and production of new insect chitosans and chitosan-based functional coatings for yarns and textiles

 

The aim of this project is the development of insect chitin as a novel and sustainable source of chitin for use as a functional surface coating for yarns and textile surfaces, especially for technical applications.

 

Duration: March 2015 – March 2018

ChiBio – Development of an integrated biorefinery for the production of special and fine chemicals from waste containing chitin

 

The aim of this project is to refine fishery waste into nitrogenous platform and basic chemicals via the chitin intermediate.

 

Duration: November 2011 – October 2014

Hydrofichi –

Bio-based hydrophobic and dirt-repellent finish for the substitution of pPerfluorochemicals (PFCs) on textile surfaces with chitosan derivatives

 

The aim of the Hydrofichi project is to modify textile surfaces using renewable raw materials in order to replace environmentally harmful and toxic agents that have been used up to now. For this purpose, a chitosan-based hydrophobic finishing of textiles is being developed.

 

Duration: August 2017 – January 2021