Shrimp Shells May Hold Key to Replace Environmentally-Harmful Uranium Mines

The average American eats almost 4 pounds of shrimp every year, leaving behind a plethora of shells from this tasty seafood. The eco-savvy chef at home may incorporate the shells into the creation of shrimp stock (visit our post to make your own!), or use them as a nutrient-packed addition to their compost. With no large-scale demand for the leftovers, however, many seafood restaurants and shrimp processors are often left without a cost-effective solution to rid themselves of the shells. Fortunately, research into the creation of environmentally-friendly plastic-substitutes is continually finding dynamic uses for the by-product of our favorite seafood.

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525 Solutions, based out of the University of Alabama’s Innovation and Mentoring of Entrepreneurs Center, is an exciting new enterprise with a unique idea to utilize shrimp shells while drastically reducing the environmentally harmful practice of land-based uranium mining. With partners at the University of Texas and the engineering firm CFM Group of Tuscaloosa, 525 Solutions is refining the process of using ionic liquid solvents and the scientific technique of electrospinning to create transparent sheets of chitin fibers extracted from dried shrimp shells.

When placed in the oceans, the chitin sheets essentially act as a magnet to attract uranium, an important fuel for nuclear power plants. Although the metal is found in fairly low concentrations throughout the world’s oceans, the vast volume of seawater on our planet is believed to hold 1,000 times more uranium than any identified land deposit. Just ½ of the ocean’s uranium resources are estimated to sustain over 6,000 years of nuclear capacity.

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525 Solutions’ chitin sheets are particularly earth-friendly in a variety of ways. Not only would they help reduce and potentially eliminate destructive terrestrial uranium mines, the sheets are also the only non-plastic material being proposed for this unique use. While traditional plastics can take up to hundreds of years to bio-degrade, chitin sheets are easily broken down in the ocean. Furthermore, unlike plastic, their natural material makeup doesn’t add harmful chemicals to the marine environment as they degrade over time.

Pictured left - The expansive Ranger mine in Australia. Image courtesy http://ecowinning.wordpress.com.

525 Solutions was awarded a National Science Foundation grant in 2012. The company recently received a $1.5 million grant from the United States Department of Energy to continue their research into the use of chitin extracted from shrimp shells for a variety of applications.

With research into the variety of uses for their shells expanding every day, our love for shrimp can only increase! Check out these blog posts to learn more about the application of shrimp shells in the medical field.

Sources:

Noch, Ed. “One Man’s Trash…: Researchers Hope To Turn Shrimp Shells Into Useful Products.” The Tuscaloosa News. July 19, 2014. Web. July 2014.