McCLELLANVILLE D Clemson University researchers have developed a new process to turn crab shells into natural marketable products. Food and packaging scientists Ronald L. Thomas and Robert F. Testin at Clemson are working with W.E. (Eddie) Gordon, owner of the South Carolina Crab Company in McClellanville, to process crab shells into promising new product lines.
"Ninety percent of the shellfish is discarded in traditional seafood processing operations around the world," Thomas said. "We've developed a process to completely eliminate that and use 100 percent of the product."
The process is a closed-loop system that extracts the remainder of food-grade meat from the shells, then reduces the shells to their primary materials D chitin and calcium D with no discharge into the environment. The chitin can then be converted into chitosan and glucosamine, products that are in high demand by the food supplement industry, the medical profession, manufacturing and agriculture.
The food supplement, or nutraceutical industry, sells glucosamine as a treatment for chronic arthritis and chitosan as a natural fiber for reducing cholesterol and absorbing fat. Physicians use chitosan film as an "artificial skin" to treat burns and severe wounds because of its antimicrobial properties. Manufacturers use chitosan as a natural polymer to remove heavy metals from industrial waste water. Agriculture uses chitosan as a feed supplement for hogs and as a seed coating. The cosmetic industry uses it in shampoos and face creams.
"Chitin is the second most abundant natural polymer in the world after cellulose," Thomas said. "We're just beginning to explore all its possible applications."
Gordon's South Carolina Crab Company is developing a prototype system to
process food-grade chitin, calcium and crab meat from the shells. The system is
currently undergoing testing and refinements, with the possibility of commercial
Contact: Ron Thomas