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Prawns Peeled Apart to Create Biodiesel

CHINA - Environmentally-friendly fuel does not immediately spring to mind when peeling prawns but Chinese scientists claim shrimp shells may have an important role to play in improving biodiesel production efficiency.

Scientists at Hua Zhong Agriculture University in the Wuhan province of China experimented with chitin, the main component in prawn shells, and found it helped convert organic oils into biodiesel at a rate of 89 per cent in three hours.

"They can achieve as much speed and efficiency as traditional catalysts in biodiesel production without environment pollution and resource waste," Xinsheng Zheng, one of the scientists involved in the research, told Reuters.

Citing Reuters, WBCSD.org reports that biodiesel is designed to replace carbon-heavy diesel oil and can be made from sunflower or rapeseed oils.

To covert organic oils faster and under less extreme heat, a liquid catalyst, such as sodium hydroxide, is usually used.

The university's scientists found that when they carbonised a small amount of chitin it became very porous, making it easier for a catalyst to attach itself and do its work.

Traditional catalysts have to be neutralised and washed after a reaction, creating large amounts of waste water. Prawn shells remain solid, can be reused up to 10 times in the production process and are biodegradable so will not harm the environment when eventually discarded.

"It looks like a serious bit of science. Chitin is cheap, available and the conversion rate is good," said Richard Templer, director of the Porter Institute of biofuels at London's Imperial College.

the Fish Site Editor

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