Development of an integrated biorefinery for processing chitin rich biowaste to specialty and fine chemicals (ChiBio)

Project content:
The fishing industry in the EU and elsewhere produces an increasing mass of negative value crustacean shell waste (> 6 Mega tons per annum). The current disposal in landfills results in significant costs and risks to human health as well as to the environment. While in Asia small amounts of shrimp waste are processed to chitosan, the high CaCO3 content of EU crab shell waste has prevented cost effective conversion to value adding products. The project will develop an integrated biorefinery platform transforming the chemical constituents of EU, African and Asian crustacean shell waste into “drop-in” and novel chemical intermediates to produce high value, high performance bio-based polymers at high atom efficiencies. The innovative process compromises pretreatment steps facilitate downstream enzymatic depolymerisation and conversion of sugar into chemical building blocks utizilizing enzymatic and whole-cell biocatalysis routes. Biocatalyst development requires application of genomics techniques in combination with green-chemical and process-engineering know-how. Sustainable purification technologies will enable integration of monomers into current industrial polymerization processes. Biowaste streams will be valorised for the production of bioenergy to improve process efficiency and the greenhouse gas footprint. The environmental impact of process chain will be evaluated by a cradle-to-product life cycle analysis. Process scale-up will be linked with modeling and optimization studies to demonstrate economic viability. The consortium of 5 academic, 4 SME and 2 large industrial partners has the technical and management expertise to rapidly transfer laboratory scale results into novel industrial product lines at an accelerated pace. Keyconsortium members are from 5 different EU and 2 associated ICP states, which allows for strategictechnology transfer from high- to low-tech driven countries, fostering the development of sustainable economies in the EU and beyond.
One major competent of crustacean shells is chitin, which can be used as a raw material for the production of nitrogen containing chemicals. Chitin is the second most abundant biopolymer on earth, next to plant-derived celluloses. Chemically, chitin is distinguished from cellulose by and additional acetamide function on many of its 1,4-β-linked glucose monomer units. In contrast to ligno-cellulosic biomass and despite its unique chemical features, conversion strategies for chitin rich biomass to value adding industrial chemicals are at present basically limited to chitosan utilization, an integrated biorefining of chitin-rich biomasses is not yet well developed.
The aim of this project is based on an integrated biorefinery concept, realizing a diverse array of novel conversion strategies for chitin rich waste to high value specialty chemicals for the polymer industries. In doing so, ChiBio will primarily apply, investigate, develop and optimize eco-efficient and sustainable methodologies based on innovative technologies such as “Molecular Genomics”, “White Biotechnology” and “Green Chemistry”. All biological by-products accumulating in this process-chain e.g. proteins and lipids will be investigated for their potential as feed for biogas production. Overall, ChiBio is about novel tools, novel processes and novel product portfolios to create value out of chitin-rich biowaste products.

  • To achive these goals ChiBio will tackle the following overall scientific objectives:
  • Develop improved pretreatment-methods for European (and Asian/African) shell wastes with respect to ecoefficiency and sustainability;
  • Identify and evolve new enzymes for the depolymersiation of   chitin/chitosan to monomeric units;
  • Develop cheap separation processes for proteinogenic and lipoid by-   products;
  • Evaluate the potential of energy-rich by-products as feed for anaerobic biogas-production;
  • Establish a novel chemo-enzymatic/microbial route to synthesize N-   containing bifunctional monomers starting from glucosamine;
  • Develop a fermentative production route for bifunctional olefins starting from glucosamine and/or N-Acetylglucosamine;
  • Upscaling of the full process chain to make needed enzymes/microbial strains available in kg-scale;
  • Separation of new monomers to polymer grade (minimum of 10 g for initial testing);
  • Synthesis of novel “sustainable” polymers and characterization of their physical properties;
  • Perform process analysis, feasibility study and cradle-to-product life cycle analysis (LCA) of the entire process chain;
  • Establish a scientific advisory board including members from European fishery companies, peeling factories and enzyme producers.

Fazeni, K., Lindorfer, J., Prammer, H. (2014) Methodological advancements in Life Cycle Process Design: A preliminary outlook“. Resources, Conservation and Recycling (92): 66-77. DOI: 10.1016/j.resconrec.2014.08.011

Videobroadcasts of the Project:

Crab Shells: Future Raw Materials? & Do you know: can crab shells be toxic?

Fazeni, K., Lindorfer, J. (2013) Life Cycle Assessment as an instrument for the Life Cycle Process Design of an innovative biorefinery concept, LCA conference, 4.-5. November 2013, Lille, Frankreich.

Datum: 04.-05. November 2013
Ort: Lille, France


This project has received funding, within the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7), from the European Comission.


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