Waste material from fish processing could be used to create one of the key components in the production of textiles.
A team of Scottish researchers is exploring a new bio-based process that uses enzymes to create adipic acid, a precursor to nylon.
Plastic experts from Impact Solutions; biotechnology researchers from the University of Edinburgh led by Dr Stephen Wallace; seafood producer Farne Salmon, part of Labeyrie Fine Foods; and the Industrial Biotechnology Innovation Centre (IBioIC) are exploring the feasibility of a more environmentally friendly, circular approach to the production of synthetic clothing.
The project involves taking waste material generated as part of fish processing and using biological enzymes to extract the fatty components of the fish waste. Through advanced molecular biology, genetically modified bacteria can then turn the fatty components into a mixture of adipic acid and useful by-products.
The feasibility study marks the beginning of an important step towards finding a sustainable, bio-based alternative for the production of adipic acid, which is typically derived from petrochemicals, which involves a significant impact on the environment. Waste nitrous oxide is one of many byproducts of the process, with some reports stating that it could be more harmful to the climate than CO2, the researchers said.
In addition to nylon, adipic acid is used in a range of products including polyurethane-based items such as building insulation and furniture cushioning, as well as cosmetics, lubricants, pharmaceuticals and food additives and flavourings.
As much as 492,000 tonnes of waste is created annually by the UK’s fish processing industry – comprising fish remains, oils, and wastewater collected in cleaning processing plants. Currently, the waste must go through either expensive and energy-intensive treatment and separation or used in low value products such as animal feed or fertiliser, but this new process could uncover alternative uses for the waste material.