A Texas A&M research team is turning dead flies into biodegradable plastics in an attempt to create a more eco-friendly alternative to synthetic plastics.
The research team is led by Karen Wooley who has been turning natural products into bioplastics for over two decades.
So how does it work?
Graduate Cassidy Tibbets stated in some sectors of the agriculture realm black soldier flies’ larvae are being used to produce animal feed due to it being more affordable than fish and soy.
So the adult fly carcasses used to produce the food are discarded but Tibbets and the research team at Texas A&M want to recycle those dead carcasses and turn them into biodegradable plastics.
The research team creates the plastics by extracting chitin from the flies and proceeding to turn that chitin into hydrogel which is a polymer material.
Scientists discovered they can turn dead flies into biodegradable plastics. https://t.co/OQpziXDd2J
— Inquirer (@inquirerdotnet) August 31, 2023
Per Fast Company:
Back in Wooley’s lab, the team extracts chitin from the flies. Chitin is a strong, fibrous substance that makes up the exoskeleton armor of the flies. The chitin is derived by cleaning the whole flies, then drying and grinding them into a powder and bleaching them white.
From there, another graduate student, Hongming Guo, turns the chitin into chitosan, a more soluble form of chitin, and produces hydrogel, a polymer material that’s known for its water absorption and retention qualities. In Guo’s trials, hydrogel soaked up 47 times its own weight in a minute, versus 30 times for commercial chitosan. One possible application could be adding small, biodegradable hydrogel balls to crop soil to alleviate flooding, which is frequent in Texas. As the hydrogel balls break down, they could release their own mineral components as nutrients for the crops.
Researchers are looking into other plastic products as well, noting that chitin could be made into medical dressings, packaging and food wraps, and even paper from spinning chitin fibers. But they’ll have to consider how to scale up the process—and they’ll need a lot more flies. So far Tibbetts has been able to convert 200 grams (7 ounces) of flies—two to three Ziploc bags full—into about 8 grams (0.3 ounce) of chitin.
Transforming black flies into biodegradable plastics.#TRENDS #Knowledge #Science #Innovations #Plastic #Black_Flies #Study pic.twitter.com/4RKESxus2T
— TRENDS Research & Advisory (@TrendsRA) August 29, 2023
Wooley stated they want to create a circular economy and “Ultimately, like the insects to eat the waste plastic as their food source, and then we would harvest them again and collect their components to make new plastics.”
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