CuanTec is initially using langoustine shells but can source its product from anything that contains chitin, a natural biopolymer. Photo: CuanTec.

Plastic-free food wrap project wins HIE funding

An international collaboration to develop shelf-life-extending plastic-free food packaging material from food waste, initially langoustine shells, has been awarded £268,284 by Highlands and Islands Enterprise (HIE).

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The Celtic Crustacean Collaboration is being led by CuanTec Limited, working with the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), both based at the European Marine Science Park (EMSP) near Oban.

They are working with Versatile Packaging in the Republic of Ireland and with Northern Ireland firm, Kilkeel Seafoods.

Conventional food wrap coated with chitosan has been shown to extend salmon shelf-life by 40%. Photo: CuanTec.

Natural polymer

CuanTec has developed a world-first method for biologically extracting a naturally occurring polymer, chitin, from waste langoustine shells and converting this to chitosan, a base material for plastic-free food packaging.

The firm’s chief executive, Cait Murray-Green, has previously told Fish Farming Expert that the firm extended the shelf-life of salmon by 40% by putting a layer of chitosan on standard PET/PE laminate packaging. Chitosan has antibacterial properties.

The firm is currently working on gaining the same shelf-life extension from a fully-home compostable packaging film.

Industrial scale

A by-product of the fermentation process is a protein-rich liquor containing a natural source of the salmon colourant astaxanthin. CuanTec is hoping the liquor can be utilised in salmon feed.

The new HIE-funded project will focus on the commercial viability of the packaging product through developing industrial-scale methods of extracting and converting the polymer from the shells and other food waste sources of chitin.

It will further test the product against industry regulatory standards and end-user requirements and investigate other potential sources of the polymer.

Dr Tracy White: "We're in the right place". Photo: CuanTec.

€14.7 million programme

Funding has been made possible through HIE’s role as a delivery partner in the EU INTERREG VA funded Co-Innovate programme, said HIE in a press release. This €14.7 million programme – including €2.2m from HIE - supports innovation and cross-border R&D projects in parts of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Dr Tracy White, head of science at CuanTec, said: “We’re dedicated to developing solutions to the issue that single-use plastic is creating. I graduated from SAMS and I know, first-hand, the calibre of facilities and resources it offers to bio-tech businesses like ours. We’re confident we’re in the right place to make a significant contribution to this global challenge.”

CuanTec has already prompted interest from supermarket chain Waitrose and in September it completed an investment round for an undisclosed sum with Sky Ocean Ventures and Scottish Enterprise to enable it to process at pilot production scale and finalise its formulations.