Maybe the cliché is right, you can’t make a silk purse with sow’s ears.but Craig Kasberg Successfully converted discarded salmon skins in his hometown of Alaska into “aquatic leather”. Now he is using an environmentally friendly process to convert discarded crab shells into a valuable industrial chemical called chitosan.
It is swimming.This summer, Kasberg’s company Tidal vision It opened a production facility in South Carolina, and this fall, the company will build a larger factory at its headquarters in Bellingham, Washington, south of the Canadian border.
Chitosan (pronounced “kite-osan”) is a multifunctional polysaccharide that has a variety of applications, including water purification, promotion of plant growth, and preservation of fresh produce. It can replace toxic chemicals, metals, petroleum products and pesticides used in industry. For example, the plant in South Carolina will produce a liquid chitosan product that will be added to Leigh Fibers textiles to reduce the odor caused by bacteria and reduce its flammability.
Only after its launch six years ago, Tidal Vision became the leading commercial producer of chitosan in the United States. China is the world’s largest country, but the process of use will generate toxic waste. Tidal Vision instead uses “green chemistry”, which includes reducing the use of hazardous chemicals, waste and energy.Chitosan itself is highly praised U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Safer Chemical Composition List.
Since the term green chemistry was coined in the late 1990s, the method has been accepted by companies and researchers in the Pacific Northwest. In recent years, Seattle’s Sironix Renewables has won the highest award in the global competition for its green detergent, and has raised millions of dollars in grants and funds. Zila Works In Renton, Washington, its hemp-derived epoxy resin won a separate international competition. Amazon recently allowed customers to search for ecological products that normally use green chemicals and pass the EPA’s Safer Choice label certification. Scientists at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and the University of Washington have made major discoveries in this field.
Sustainable chemical methods are an important driving force for environmental progress.
“The principles of green chemistry are a necessary part of holistic thinking to create safer products and materials that use less energy throughout the life cycle,” said Saskia Van Bergen, A green chemistry scientist at the Washington Ecosystem.
Van Bergen points out that Tidal Vision fits many green chemistry boxes, including the creation of non-petroleum-based compounds, the use of waste as raw materials, and the production of fertilizers as by-products.
The chitosan flakes produced by the company are mixed into liquid formulations suitable for specific industrial applications. Tidal Vision produces more than 5 million gallons (19,200 metric tons) of chitosan solution every year. It has 23 employees and plans to increase to 60 by the end of next year.
We recently interviewed Kasberg to learn more about his green technology startup. The answer has been edited for clarity and length.
GeekWire: How did you launch Tidal Vision with co-founder Zach Wilkinson?
Kasberg: I live in Juneau, Alaska, where I was born and raised. I grew up in the seafood industry and this is the source of our raw materials. We use a biopolymer that exists in the shells of all crustaceans, so crab shells, shrimp shells, and lobster shells all contain it.
I started working on a commercial fishing boat, harvesting seafood when I was 14 years old, and became my own captain when I was 19 years old. Seeing that one-third of the catch is thrown away, it seems that there must be a better way, which ultimately inspired the research and creation of tidal vision.
GW: From fishing to the launch of Tidal Vision in 2015, you also run a sustainable seafood business and use green chemical processes to turn discarded salmon skin into leather. How did you become interested in shells and chitosan?
Kasberg: Crabs are caught in the ocean and then taken back to few processing sites. The same is true for the shrimp industry. EPA no longer allows processors to discard these shells in the ocean because of ecological problems in the past and their slow rate of natural biodegradation.
Therefore, this is a rich and problematic by-product, and they either have to be sent to landfills or incinerators. We are just preventing this from happening. We not only extract problematic waste streams from industries that I know, love, and grew up in, but now we are able to transform them into things that are truly good for the world, replacing non-biodegradable toxins and heavy metals.
GW: It only took 1 1/2 years for your team to develop a green technology to convert discarded shells into chitosan. Why has no one already done it?
Kasberg: This boils down to motivation, what drives innovation. In the seafood industry, they do not sell biochemical products to the textile, agriculture, and water industries.
Therefore, this is a bit beyond their focus. This is a more decentralized industry rather than other agricultural industries, where many research funds have been heavily subsidized over the years, and they are very focused on the use of by-products. In the seafood industry, no one fully adopts this method.
GW: You said that chitosan is the second most abundant natural polymer after cellulose in plants. However, when you expand your business, is it possible that you will encounter insufficient shells?
Kasberg: Shells are easy to buy, and the quantity is huge. What is really impressive is how far these shells can go. When you make a high-performance chitosan solution, you only need about 22 pounds of chitosan, and you can extract these chitosan from about 100 pounds of shells. What this produces can treat approximately 10 metric tons (or 2,641 gallons) of contaminated water and combine with all pollutants and toxins. This is a very powerful performance. Or in textile and microbial applications, a 1-2% liquid chitosan solution is applied to these fabrics at a ratio of 2-8%.
GW: You plan to build more mixing facilities in the Midwest, Europe and Vietnam to convert chitosan flakes into solutions. What drives your sales?
Kasberg: Our mission is to create positive and systematic changes in these industries, and our strategy for doing so is to price and position our products as not only green chemical substitutes, but real low-cost and green solutions.
We found that all these companies are run by people who really care about the environment, and all these industries are essential to support humanity. If you go to them and say “Hey, we have something that costs the same but is more environmentally friendly”, it’s easy to sell.