The shells of crustaceans and wood waste such as branches pruned from trees usually end up in landfills. These waste materials are given a new lease on life to become nutritional supplements and medicine, with the help of a novel process developed by researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS). The global food processing industry generates as much as eight million tons of crustacean shell waste annually. Concurrently, Singapore generated over 438,000 tons of wood waste in 2019, among which include branches pruned from trees and saw dust from workshops. Deriving ways to upcycle these food and agricultural waste materials into useful compounds will reap benefits without straining landfills.
Although reusing waste materials has gained traction in recent years, the typical output of chemicals produced from waste recycling is often less diversified than the conventional chemical synthesis pipeline which uses crude oil or gas. To overcome the limitations, the NUS researchers came up with a pathway that marries a chemical approach with a biological process.
The NUS team’s methodology has the potential to be applied to different types of waste materials, and they can tailor the process, based on the type of waste as well as the target end product. Moving forward, the team is looking to adapt their unique process to other forms of waste, such as carbon dioxide and wastepaper. Such development would reduce society’s reliance on non-renewable resources for acquiring chemicals which are important constituents of many nutritional supplements and medicine today. The research team is also planning to scale up the processes currently developed in their laboratories, and to work with industrial partners to commercialize this technology.