Chitin & derivatives: crustacean wastes converted to highly versatile materials

In the current environmental context, using renewable resources to produce value-added chemicals is becoming a trend. Chitin and its derivatives —materials derived from crustacean wastes of the fishing industry— have not only attracted great interest for their renewable nature but also due to their versatility.

While crustacean-derived raw materials are not as popular as cellulose containing raw materials such as wood biomass or sugar cane bagasse, chitin —just as cellulose— is undeniably one of the most abundant renewable resource that nature has to offer.1 In fact, you must have encountered chitin if you are a fan of seafood! Chitin and its derivative biopolymer chitosan can be found in crustacean shells (shrimps, crabs, lobsters, etc.), fish scales and in the cell walls of fungi.2

Due to their nature, chitin and chitosan exhibit unique properties in addition to their nontoxicity, biodegradability and biocompatibility. Notably, they possess excellent adsorption properties, low chemical reactivity, insolubility in water, and the ability to repel bacteria.2 As a result, these outstanding compounds paved their way into various fields meeting (almost) everyone’s needs. They have found applications as ingredients in the cosmetic industry, as artificial skin in the medical field, as antibacterial and deodorizing fibers in the textile industry,3 as a defense-stimulant coating for seeds in horticulture;4 and they have attracted interest even in the food industry after studies brought to light the benefits of small amount of chitineous materials on the intestinal microflora.2 And good news for the wine lovers, chitosan has recently been approved as a microbial controlling-, stabilizing- and clarifying- agent in wine, further extending the application range to enology!5

In view of the large panel of applications, in case you have not yet encountered chitin in your everyday life (allergic to seafood?), be aware that this crustacean-derived compound is becoming inescapable!

Written by Anne Kokel.

Anne is a Technology Scout at TechScout

1 G. Crini et al., Environmental Chemistry Letters (2019)
2 M. N. Ravi Kumar, Reactive & Functional Polymers (2000); C. Peniche et al. Monomers, Polymers and Composites from Renewable Resources (2008)
5 A. C. Marin et al., Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition (2020)