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Bioplastic Made from Waste Shrimp Shells

June 17th, 2012

Insect cuticle is a pretty versatile material. Layers of chitin, a biopolymer, are built up to make strong, lightweight material that composes the exoskeleton and wings of insects. Now, scientists from the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed an artificial version of insect cuticle called 'Shrilk' that is as strong as aluminum allow but with only half the weight.

The synthetic insect cuticle is made from chitin which is obtained from waste shrimp shells. By varying the level of moisture during the production process, the stiffness of the material can be varied, allowing flexible or very rigid products to be made with the same material.

Since it is biodegradable, Shrilk is also being investigated for a number of medical uses, including use for sutures that need to be particularly strong and as a scaffold for tissue regeneration. It is also being suggested as a low-cost and biodegradable alternative material for things like trash bags and packaging.

image: Public Domain by Siga/Wikimedia Commons

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