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Brief Published: 26 May 2014

Shrimp Bioplastic

Shrilk bioplastic by Harvard's Wyass Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering

In the quest for more sustainable material options, researchers at US university Harvard’s Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering have developed a biodegradable plastic made from shrimp shells. As described in our Biomaterials report, bioplastics are emerging as a viable eco-friendly alternative that doesn’t compromise on performance. 

Known as Shrilk, the bioplastic is made from chitosan, a form of chitin that is extracted from the shells of shrimps and other crustaceans – the second most abundant organic material on the planet after cellulose. This substance gives the material its strength, while the addition of silk fibres and wood flour enable it to be manipulated in similar ways to a conventional plastic.

Unlike other bioplastics, which are more commonly made from plant cellulose, the material is completely biodegradable and actually releases nutrients into the soil while it breaks down – a process that takes around two weeks. The plastic can be used in casting or injection-moulding manufacturing processes, meaning it could have a whole range of applications from packaging to garbage bags, toys to consumer electronics shells. 

Marine biology is emerging as a rich source of inspiration for materials and product development – see Marine Materials for other examples.