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Shellfish food wrap will “kill bugs, extend shelf life and eventually biodegrade without a trace”

A food wrap made using shellfish could end up in every kitchen in the world, save millions for the food sector and slash pollution, it has been claimed.

The wrap is made using discarded langoustine shells taken from Scotland’s huge seafood sector.

Developers CuanTec say that the material will kill bugs, extend shelf life and eventually biodegrade without a trace.

Scientists hope the new food wrapping will replace cling film commonly used in the food industry and at home.

The team at CuanTec, a spinoff from Strathclyde University, have been working on the project more than two years.

Now having secured investment worth six figures, they have just a year to prove that their patentable method works which would then pave the way for industrial scale production.

Cait Murray-Green, chief executive officer of CuanTec, said: “There is an unlimited market.

“This could end up being a new roll of cling film in every house, it could be vacuum packed around every chicken, every salmon fillet that you buy.

“This could be used in so many ways. We expect our customers to be worldwide.”

The natural product could potentially use the shells of other sea creatures such as crabs but for now langoustine shells will make up the basis of the wrap.

The firm, which takes its name from the Gaelic word for sea, want to make fresh produce last longer and offer a better alternative to plastics and chemically-processed products.

If successful, it could see Scotland corner the global market in the production of chitosan which is a biopolymer used in glues and dyes which is based on a substance found in langoustine shells.

At the moment, factories extract chitin, the most abundant naturally occurring biopolymer in the world, from the raw material using harmful acid and caustic soda.

The process also requires high levels of energy and leads to toxic byproducts and greenhouse gases.

But the new method developed in Scotland will rely on biology instead of chemistry and minimise the amount of power needed and produce safe byproducts that can be sold to create fish food.

The wrap made from the resulting chitosan will be anti-microbial, beat the bugs that can colonise chilled foods, compostable and biodegradable.

Lower-grade versions of chitosan are made in China, Vietnam and Thailand, while energy-rich Norway and Iceland dominate the higher end of the chain.

The natural hydro and geothermal energy resources there have allowed these nearby nations to keep production affordable, with vast tanks of raw matter heated to up to 100C for hours at a time to allow the chemicals to work.

But CuanTec, which is based at the Biocity life sciences hub near Motherwell, say their version will be made at room temperature instead which should greatly reduce the environmental impact.

Cait Murray-Green added: “We are going to get the chitosan through biological fermentation. It doesn’t take up a huge amount of energy.

“It might take more time, but we are going to let nature take its course.

“We will be able to capture the carbon dioxide that results and change it into a by-product to be sold for fish food.

“Academics have been able to get this type of method to work on a workbench. It’s totally different when you are trying to do it on an industrial scale.

“Can we get it to work? We believe that the science is on our side.”

Spoiled produce costs Scotland’s fish industry £60 million a year.

Wendy Hanson, innovation team leader at project backer Scottish Enterprise, said: “CuanTec is doing something hugely innovative that could disrupt the market, while making excellent use of a circular economy approach to exploit waste products from the fisheries industry.”

Dr David McBeth, director of research and knowledge exchange services at Strathclyde University, said: “CuanTec presents an imaginative solution to major environmental and economic challenges by creating new and sustainable uses for by-products of premium-price food production which would otherwise be wasted at considerable cost.”

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