A team from Glyndŵr University in Wales believe a polymer, derived from chitin, found in the shells, can be extracted and used instead of synthetic polymers to make personal and home care products.
The move has even attracted the interest of several industry players, with the university team currently concluding a £1million (€1.36m) research project in collaboration with partners including Croda and Almac Group.
The project has received financial support from the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK, and Innovation Norway.
Polymers are added to a range of industrial formulations, including cosmetics, to control their viscosity and extend their shelf-life.
In labs at its Centre for Water Soluble Polymers in Wrexham, scientists have modified polymer extracted from waste prawn shells, with the hope that the new polymer which they’ve created will perform the same function as existing polymers in personal and home care products.
“Chitosan is one of the most abundant of all natural polymers and it has attracted great interest,” says Pete Williams, Professor of Polymer and Colloid Chemistry at Glyndwr University. “[It] has been around for a long time but we have developed a method of modifying it to give it enhanced properties.”
The project began back in June 2013 and has now reached a stage where the team has developed a new polymer which is now being tested in personal care formulations.
“The prawn shells would normally be disposed of as waste so, ultimately, the aim of the project is to make the production of personal and home care products greener,” adds Williams.
Chitosan has long been connected with the cosmetics industry for various reasons with some formulators already using it as an anti-ageing and skin regenerative ingredient.
For instance cosmeceutical brand Janssen sells Hydro Chitosan hydrating ampoules as part of the Skin Excel line, and Medileen KOR markets an anti-aging facial mask with chitosan and EGF.
Scientists have also found a way to make a new plastic for packaging from it, as it can serve as a viable bioplastic that could potentially be used instead of conventional plastics for numerous industrial applications, according to a study by the Wyss Institute at Harvard University.