NewChi – High quality chitins and chitosans for biofunctional applications

Due to its structural properties, its low toxicity, biocompatibility and biodegradability, the biological raw material chitosan has a broad material-technological and biotechnological application potential. Chitosan has so far been obtained from chitin, which is mainly extracted from the shell remains of shrimps and crabs. It is also part of the supporting skeleton of insects and crustaceans and is a structure-determining cell wall component of some lower and higher fungi.

At present, the annual global production capacity is around 40,000 t of chitosan, with more than 75% of the raw material chitin extracted from the shells of crustaceans being supplied from Asia (Chitosan Market Analysis, 2017).

Therefore, in addition to reducing the dependence of European chitosan producers on raw material suppliers from overseas, the aim of the project is to increase the purity and create a constant high quality of the available chitin for high-grade applications.

In addition to the use of chitin from crustaceans, the use of insect shells and carapaces is another possibility to provide chitin for chitosan production. Since 2015, the European Union has been working intensively on creating a legal framework for breeding insects for use as a protein-rich food source. As a result of these developments, a rapidly growing insect breeding industry is currently emerging. After extraction of the proteins, the chitin-rich insect carapaces are available as by-products and waste products. A further goal of this project is to evaluate the usability of this novel industrially available chitin source as a high-quality raw material for chitosan producers and processors.

The consortium of French and German companies and research institutions includes not only producers of insect-based and biotechnological chitin, but also research institutes with expertise in chemical analysis and materials science, as well as a company focusing on the development and production of high-purity chitosans for pharmaceutical applications. In cooperation with producers and research institutes, the project aims to develop functional chitosan-based materials from alternative raw material sources such as insect shells and fungal mycelia for specific applications.