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  • The Shellworks is a team of master's students at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

  • The Shellworks is all about taking unknown bio-material and trying to bring it into the mainstream.

  • Together they make bioplastics from lobster shells.

  • The team is comprised of architects and mechanical engineers and product design engineers.

  • And we all had this fascination with food waste and specifically crustacean waste and fish waste, which is not often looked at from a design-and-engineering point of view.

  • The shells of these crabs and lobsters will sometimes just go to a landfill where they can start emitting methane.

  • And we were interested in whether there was a way to valorize that waste stream.

  • Over 250,000 tons of crustacean waste are produced every year in the EU alone.

  • That waste is equal to about 1,600 blue whales.

  • But what's so valuable about that waste?

  • We found this biopolymer inside crustacean shells called chitin that you can treat in a certain way to extract and actually make a bioplastic from those shells.

  • Chitin is the second-most abundant organic material on earth.

  • It's found in insects, fungi, and crustaceans.

  • We started working with lobsters because they're a really interesting waste source.

  • By weight, chitin accounts for about 30% of the shell, and it's also the case that with lobsters they're eaten at the restaurant.

  • So as opposed to shellfish or shrimp where they get industrially deshelled, these lobster shells are just going to waste at the restaurant source.

  • Through chemical processes, all that chitin can be turned into chitosan, which is where The Shellworks comes in.

  • What you need to do is to extract the chitosan before you can use it as a bioplastic.

  • So the first stage is an extraction, which is this machine behind me.

  • So we've designed four machines, Shelly, Sheety, Vaccy, and Dippy.

  • The first machine is an extraction unit.

  • We basically put in ground-up lobster shells.

  • It runs through a set of processes, and out comes the powder, which is the chitosan.

  • We will start with the shells.

  • We will extract the chitosan powder and then to that we will add vinegar in varying ratios.

  • That will form a kind of chitosan and bioplastic goop, which we will put into the dip-forming machine.

  • Each machine is kind of good for making a different thing.

  • The sheet-former obviously only makes sheets.

  • The vacuum-former is good for making kind of less three-dimensional reliefs, so things like blister packaging.

  • And then the dip-molder is excellent for making really extruded shapes, so very three-dimensional objects.

  • We can also make plastic bags from these sheets by gluing them together with more of the bioplastic, which means that the bag is 100% chitosan and so it's much more easily recycled.

  • We used our projects to illustrate that the material can actually be formed into lots of applications that could be a really compelling replacement for some single-use plastic items.

  • So we have designed plant pots that self-fertilize.

  • So they actually get planted with the plant in the ground, and as they biodegrade, they become a fertilizer for the plant.

  • The bioplastic is water soluble, which is both a blessing and a curse.

  • It makes it very easy to recycle, but obviously limits the applications that we can do with it.

  • So we're looking at ways of waterproofing material with kind of natural wax coatings that would make it more applicable for a wider range of things.

  • I describe the machines as quite accessible.

  • We kind of designed them from scratch in workshops, so potentially other people could also build these machines.

  • The project is all about bridging the gap between science and industry.

  • We find that there's so much stuff out there in scientific papers which never actually makes it into industry, which is a real shame.

  • So we've kind of taken inspiration from certain things that we've found in scientific papers.

  • And developed those into processes that might be scalable in industry to kind of really make this bioplastic something that could be feasible in the real world.

The Shellworks is a team of master's students at the Royal College of Art and Imperial College London.

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