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--> Appendix 2 Chitin Production from Lobster and Crab Shells on PEI Introduction This virtual case study was carried out as part of the Knowledge Assessment Methodology Project in Prince Edward Island. As one element of the methodology, virtual case studies are used to explore the weaknesses and strengths of the existing knowledge economy, employing as a vehicle the planning of a hypothetical, knowledge-based enterprise in an area of comparative advantage that is affected by technical change. It is emphasized that this report is almost entirely drawn from the expertise and experience of the participants, and is not intended to propose that such an enterprise actually be established on PEI. The virtual case study (VCS) on chitin production took place on the campus of the University of Prince Edward Island. Participants included representatives of the fishing industry, the Atlantic Veterinary College, the Food Technology Center, the Provincial Government, and the private sector. The U.S. National Research Council was represented by Ray Pariser, retired Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Michael Greene, Director of International Development Programs at NRC. Background There are two kinds of polysaccharides common in nature, the cellulose, characteristic of the plant kingdom, and chitin, found in members of the animal kingdom. Together they are the most abundant organic materials in nature. One species of plankton alone produces 100 billion tons of chitin per year.
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--> Technically, chitin is a polyanacetylglucosamine, characterized by the presence of a charged NH group and an acetyl group CH3CO. In nature, no organism produces pure polyanacetylglucosamine, but all arthropods produce partially acetylated polysaccharides, often contaminated with heavy metals and amino acids. Some species of fungi also produce chitin. In practice, the term chitin has come to mean generically the material that is produced in nature, rather than the pure molecule. The processed form, in which the deacetylation is between 30 and 70 per cent, is called chitosan. Chitin is insoluble in water and must be dissolved in acid; chitosan is water-soluble. Aside from its structural function in arthropods, chitin plays other important roles in nature. It contributes to keeping the oceans clean. The chitin released by the shells of molting organisms falls to the sea bed where it forms a powerful chelating agent, attracting heavy metals, especially transition metals, and providing nuclei for the manganese nodules found on the ocean floor. At the other end of the spectrum, chitin is metabolized by the human body to produce glucose, and it has been adopted by advocates as a nutraceutical dietary supplement. Rats have been said to starve after eating chitosan because it absorbs nutrients and bacteria that participate in digestion as it passes through the gut. It is used in weight loss remedies on the market but may be dangerous. The composition of harvested chitin is highly variable, even from a single source like lobsters. The amount of metal and amino acid contaminants will depend on water quality and on diet, and they can be quite difficult to remove. The industrial production of pharmaceutical or biomedical quality (i.e., pure) chitin from natural chitin may not yet have been realized successfully. Shellfish wastes have a water content equal to two-thirds of the total. As such, the 15 million pounds of resource available in or near PEI would yield five million pounds of dry shell. This shell can be assumed to be about half mineral matter (mostly calcium carbonate), one-quarter protein suitable for use in animal feeds, and one-quarter chitin, as well as small quantities (one per cent or so) lipids, and a tiny quantity of very valuable red dye, xantheum. As such, the shell resource on PEI could yield up to 1.25 million pounds annually of chitin, as well as several by-products. PEI's situation may be highly advantageous, because its small size and the proximity of its shellfish processing operations facilitate storage and handling of the shells, which deteriorate within hours. Historically, applications have included wastewater treatment, use for recovery of protein from egg wastes for animal feed, wound healing, crop protection (from fungi), glue, and color photography. The problem in higher end applications is consistency of the feedstock; every batch must be tested. Unfortunately, there is probably no viable industry experience to draw on in this virtual case study. Some of the largest producers overseas produce chitin of unreliable quality. Those seeking to attain higher quality product have not been profitable, in part because of the problem of collection and preservation of raw material.
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--> The Enterprise In view of the above considerations, in our virtual case study we examine the opportunities for a company with the following characteristics. Statement of Purpose The enterprise will utilize waste products from PEI's lobster and crab fisheries for value-added wealth creation. What is the product? The company will extract raw chitin, raw protein, and raw lipids from shells, and prepare refined derivatives of these. The objective will be to produce high grade, reliable, quality controlled product. The list of possible applications is long, and includes water treatment, seed coating for protection from fungi, hair products, surgical sutures, fruit and vegetable preservatives, fungicide, contact lenses, animal feed, cholesterol or fat reduction, fiber additive, and basal material for sustained drug release. Who are the customers? The potential market includes industrial, food, nutraceutical, pharmaceutical, and biomedical applications. Who are the competitors? A facility in New Brunswick provides chitin currently used in DuPont's paper plant (a low-end application), with plans to expand into food-related uses, and a facility being planned in Iceland focuses on flavorings and dyes. The Japanese currently produce large quantities of chitin using a decades-old technology, but the quality is too poor for anything other than low-end uses not requiring high purity. A Norwegian plant located in Washington State has recently closed, ostensibly for environmental reasons. And, closer to home, there is an application to ACOA and Enterprise PEI by a consortium from Alaska and Quebec to build a chitin plant in PEI based on new technology developed at Laval University in Quebec for which a patent has been applied; unfortunately, little was known about this technology by the participants in the virtual case study. What resources will be used? The feedstock will be lobster and crab shells from PEI. The potential resource currently amounts to about 4 million pounds of lobster shells and 8 million
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--> pounds of crab shells annually. The possibility exists to access perhaps another 4 or 5 million pounds from within 50 miles on the mainland. More may be available if the chitin market proves lucrative; about 70 per cent of the lobster harvest is prepared for in-shell presentation and the shell is lost for reuse. If the value were high, this ratio might change. What technologies will be used? For the purposes of the VCS, existing, non-proprietary technologies will be assumed. The Quebec technology is claimed to have the potential to produce a higher-quality, consistent product, and is currently in the small-scale demonstration phase. This technology will be considered as well, to the extent possible. However, at present there are no existing successful chitin processing plants based on lobster; the commercial processes are generally designed for shrimp or crab, and the lobster-derived product must be tested to assure process efficiency and product quality. The elements of the basic process are: 1 harvest, clean, and separate shells mechanically; 2 pre-treat—grinding and ensiling—to prepare and preserve feedstock; 3 remove proteins to give chitin-mineral complex; 4 remove minerals to yield chitin; 5 deacetylate to make chitosan; 6 finish. What is the core competency that gives a competitive edge? The resource of crustacean shells is substantial and more concentrated in location than anywhere else in the world. Resource Availability A recent survey has identified 10 million pounds of shell currently discarded annually by Island lobster and crab processing operations. Fifty per cent of lobster wastes are produced in the two months of May and June. Other active periods are fall and winter for crabs and August and September for lobsters. This offers two alternatives: a plant capable of processing the peak amounts of material in two months, and remaining idle for much of the year, or a plant designed for average capacity, complemented by facilities to store and preserve the shell material. Economics will probably dictate the latter solution. The slurried feedstock will be continuously collected and brought to a central location for processing. To prevent deterioration, ground lobster and crab shells can be dried, frozen, or ensiled in an alkaline environment (acids will dissolve the shell). Drying re-
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--> quires expensive energy, and water will be readded during the manufacturing process. Freezing takes energy and cold storage facilities, so ensilage is probably preferable. The grinding can be done in an alkaline environment to reduce odor. Grinding and storage facilities can be placed adjacent to each processing plant. Rubber or glass-lined tanks are manufactured in PEI and can be readily obtained. pH must be continuously monitored and controlled during storage. However, the actual condition and stability of the material during storage in an alkaline environment are unknown, and should be investigated. A key consideration for the long-term success of the enterprise is the sustainability of the PEI lobster and crab fishery. The fishery has been stable for over a century, and the Canadian management plan predicts continued adequate numbers of catch. The lobster harvest is presently running at 2.5 times the thirty-year average, in part because of improved technology. Crab stocks are good, and the catch has risen in the short term because of high prices. There are three local candidate species for the chitin industry: lobsters, rock crab, and snow crab. Currently, snow crab is mostly sold in the shell, so the shells are hard to collect. Spider crab is also available, but it is not utilized because of a thick shell and limited meat content. It may be economic to harvest spider crabs specifically for the chitin industry, but fishing a species for non-food uses is considered in some quarters unethical. Production Requirements There are now 12 lobster processing plants on the Island. One of them could be expanded to embrace a central chitin manufacturing plant, but it may not be feasible or safe to locate the central plant near where food is processed. More appropriate would be association with an industrial chemical plant or wastewater treatment plant. The effluent from the chitin plant will need to be treated to protect the environment, so an existing plant that presently dilutes acid and alkaline effluent would be advantageous. Operation and maintenance of the plant would require a manager with a technical background, a plant engineer, technicians to perform tests for quality control, and scientists to carry out research and development to maintain and improve the operation. There are capable people working in PEI now, and new recruits can probably be found here or in the other Maritimes. The workforce could include seasonal fishermen and thus help to sustain the industry. High level technical advisors can be brought in from elsewhere when needed. All required equipment can be bought off the shelf, and much of it is available in PEI. Another alternative is to obtain equipment from firms that have gone out of business, when they can be located. The now defunct Norwegian plant in Washington may provide such an opportunity. A subcontractor may be required to provide transport for collecting the raw material from the storage areas adjacent to the processing plants and bringing it to
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--> the central plant on a continuous basis. This will require 1-3 trucks to collect slurry, and this could be a significant cost. Raw material could either be obtained on contract or by including the processors as co-owners of the plant. Contracting for the raw feedstock might leave the company vulnerable to price rises or to loss of the supply to a competitor (or to the same processors, going into the chitin business for themselves if it is successful). Laboratory analysis of the product and byproducts for quality control will have to be done in the plant or on the island. There are several laboratories on the island, both public and private, that could assist. Sterilization, if needed for biomedical products, could be contracted to Queen Elizabeth's Hospital in Charlottetown. The quality factors are: solubility; viscosity; molecular weight; degree of deacetylation, or free amine content; moisture content; protein content; ash content; lipid content; and optical activity. Other tests for special applications are: amino acid profile; trace metal analysis; fatty acid profile; thermal stability; metal adsorption; crystallinity; antigenicity; and pyrogenicity. All except amino acid profile and crystallinity can be done on the Island, and those two can probably be done in Halifax. The enterprise will produce crude, medium, and high quality product for different markets. The company may wish to start with the crude product and negotiate contracts at a low price, then form joint ventures as it moves into higher end product. The low-end material will be shipped by the ton, and can be carried by truck in 50 pounds bags. At the high end, grams of product will be shipped by express mail. For quality chitin or chitosan, sterile containers may be required. In the effluent, acids and alkalines can be neutralized. The neutral product will contain acetates and calcium chloride, which could be spread on roads for de-icing as a less corroding substitute for salt; it can also be applied in summer to moisturize roads and dampen dust. Using a solvent extraction process, a red dye can be obtained which is used to color salmon. If oil, obtainable from the French fried potato plants, is used as solvent, the oil containing the dye can be fed directly to the fish. The products, dye for salmon, protein feed supplement, road treatments, and possibly soap from the lipids, will leave little effluent to dispose of. Environmental concerns can also be tempered by the fact that the 50 per cent biomass residue of the $100 million lobster industry will be upgraded and used, leaving little residue. Presently most of the shell from the processing plants is spread on farmers' fields, at some cost to the lobster producers, and with some environmental impacts related to odor if the shells are not quickly incorporated into the soil. Certain questions still must be explored before a chitin proposal can be assessed. A pilot plant scale research project will be necessary before a plant can be designed and costs can be estimated. Among the questions to be answered are:
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--> Can the ground shell from the processing plants be stabilized in an alkaline environment? What is the effect on the material of ensilage and prolonged storage? Is preservation and storage throughout the year more efficient than bulk processing during part of the year? Which technology would be most efficient? Several alternatives should be tested, including the Quebec technology. What is the variation of shell composition, by species, season, and harvest? How do the compositions of the shells of lobster, shrimp, and the several crab species differ? Should lobster and crab wastes be stored in separate tanks? Can the byproducts be made cost-effectively? Can byproduct output be effectively adjusted and linked to variation in shell composition? What is the potential supply of lobster, crab, and shrimp, by month of the year? Unfortunately there is no graduate program at UPEI or Holland College related to chitin research, so the research program can not easily be used to train the next generation of experts in this field. A graduate program in biochemistry could train a generation of scientists specializing in marine products that could benefit all of Atlantic Canada, and a chitin plant would provide a good opportunity for cooperative training. Legal And Regulatory Requirements A permit would be required to operate the plant; this can be obtained with a one-month turnaround following submission of an environmental impact statement for the plant and the effluent and solid material. The data from the pilot plant project could provide the basis for the EIS. A building permit, likewise tied to the environmental statement, would also be needed. Before a food product can be marketed and sold, the Food and Drug Administration will inspect the plant. In order to export to the United States, European Union or Japan, good manufacturing practices (GMP) and good laboratory practices (GLP) must be certified, in addition to passing the FDA inspection. These are the responsibility of the National Institute of Standards and Technology and FDA, respectively, for the United States. Europe has similar arrangements, but Japanese certification is somewhat more complex. Marketing Requirements There is a solid, but low end, demand for chitin related to water purification, at about $10 per pound, and promising opportunities in food supplements. High-end biomedical uses may draw around $2,000 per pound, and there is a broad range in between. It is also possible that the plant can be used for other marine extraction products, like seaweed and jellyfish. For most other potential applica-
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--> tions of chitin or derivatives there is presently no market, in part at least because there is no supply. There are only about three major chitin plants in the world: in Japan, Washington (now closed), and Norway. New plants are opening in India and China. Research on applications may provide important tools for marketing, aside from the prospect of spin-off industries. Implementation Plan The Alaskan-Quebec consortium has estimated $5 million to build a plant in PEI, using their own technology, and is looking for a 50 per cent partner. The storage tanks would cost additional. A local consortium to partner with the Alaskan-Quebec group may be a valid solution, and there is much venture capital in PEI looking for projects. Alternatively, the local group can lease the Quebec technology and test it in a pilot plant. If it is economical and successful, they could try to buy or license it. The lobster processors have a natural interest. The Food Technology Center might also take a share; it is now able to enter an arrangement with a private partner. If there is a promise of many jobs, the government might contribute; if promise of profit, the venture capitalists. One venture capital fund, for example, has $30 million to invest in Atlantic Canada. There are also Federal funds available to support science and technology initiatives, which might support the pilot project. Even DuPont has components that provide venture capital. The processing community is not likely to take the initiative but might be persuaded to join a developing venture. A manager should be sought, a technical person with knowledge of marketing and procurement. At an early stage he or she should approach the processors to engage them as partners; this is crucial to avoid major problems with supply or competition later on. Following a recent restructuring of the industry, there are presently seven independent suppliers on the Island; the largest of these, Polar Foods, controls about 50-60 per cent of the shells. As a partner, Polar Foods alone could guarantee an adequate supply. Probably the most immediate need is for funding to cover the cost of the pilot plant R&D program. As generic research that could benefit an entire industry, it might qualify for government funding. If the Quebec technology does not work out, there are other, unpatented technologies that might be adapted successfully to process the material available on PEI. An advantage of this course would be that the expertise thus developed could be licensed to other areas of high shell supply, such as Central America. In the longer term, this expertise could be expanded to include systems knowledge related to resource management, feedstock storage and transport, and marketing, as well as the processing technology itself. Chitin processing would thus become the basis not only for a new export product, but also a highly exportable knowledge-based service.
Representative terms from entire chapter: