Scientists use shrimp shells to make sustainable products

The researchers' idea is to use only sustainable methods

A project led by researchers from the Associated Laboratory for Green Chemistry (LAQV-REQUIMTE), from the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Porto (FCUP), will use shrimp shell waste, which usually goes to landfill, to produce amines, which they can be used in the production of pharmaceuticals, plastics, detergents and many other things.

What's so special about these shells? “They are rich in nitrogen, offering an excellent opportunity to obtain various types of amines in a sustainable way and which are currently only produced in the industry from petroleum”, explains Andreia Peixoto, LAQV-REQUIMTE researcher at FCUP, responsible for Shell4BioA.

The researchers' idea is to use only sustainable methods. And several processes of extraction and conversion of one of the constituents of the shells, chitin, into bioderived amines are already underway in the laboratories of the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry at FCUP.

However, there is one of these processes that they want to focus on for the processing of shrimp shells, provided by Mar Cabo. The peels are placed in pressurized water at temperatures of around 250ºC and obtain an extract and a solid residue that, after heat treatments, can be used as a catalyst that will accelerate chemical reactions for the sustainable transformation of chitin and derivatives into amines.

“It is intended to create the necessary conditions to develop a refinery that uses shrimp shells instead of oil”, underlines Andreia Peixoto. It would be, in the words of this researcher, a biorefinery that would use different equipment from refineries that use oil with some similar processes.

Shell4bioA's motto is not to waste, reuse and value. Thus, by taking advantage of a raw material that would otherwise be wasted, the use of fossil fuels is also avoided.

This project will last 18 months and also has researchers from LAQV-REQUIMTE, the Instituto Superior de Engenharia do Porto (ISEP) and the Faculty of Pharmacy of the University of Lisbon (FFUL).