A chance conversation in a shop could lead to a Lanarkshire biotech company producing the world’s first compostable single use milk bottle using a natural biopolymer made from langoustine shells.
CuanTec, which is being helped by Business Gateway Lanarkshire, has devised a revolutionary way to produce plastic food wrap from crustacean shells on an industrial scale, and scientists at the firm believe the process could also make an environmentally friendly non-petroleum plastic milk bottle.
Based at the Life Sciences hub, MediCity, near Motherwell, the spin-out from Strathclyde University produces its chitin, a natural biopolymer, from langoustine shells using biological fermentation rather than traditional chemical means.
Already the company has used the langoustine derived product, which the firm says can also be extracted from mushrooms, other crustaceans and insects using its methods, to produce an anti-microbial, compostable food wrap that reduces spoilage and prolongs the shelf-life of fresh food.
Now, CuanTec, which won £150k at the HIGGS EDGE science business awards last year, is close to producing decomposable beer packaging for Hillington Park based Jaw Brew and is currently working with Ayrshire-based Mossgiel Farm to produce a compostable milk container.
To help the company take on staff, expand its facilities and produce prototypes of the products, it has launched www.crowdfunder.co.uk/pollution-kills-cuantec-saves to raise £200k.
Dr Ryan Taylor, CuanTec Chief Scientific Officer, said: “It is a very exciting time for the business, with collaborations arising in often non-conventional ways. Our work with Mossgiel Farm came about after I spoke about what we do in a health food shop. A few weeks later the shop assistant spotted a post on social media from Bryce Cunningham owner of the farm. He’d been looking for two years to find an environmentally friendly, non-petroleum derived, single use milk bottle with no luck. The shop assistant suggested he contact us and we are now working with him to make a compostable milk container. But, with all new ideas turning a process into an actual product costs money. That is why we’ve launched the crowdfunding campaign to help us produce prototypes of products that have the potential to significantly reduce our reliance on plastics that are causing real harm to our environment.”
He added: “Getting to this stage has taken a lot of work and dedication from the team, and without the help of Business Gateway Lanarkshire we wouldn’t have been able to access a range of support from Scottish Enterprise that has been invaluable to us. Our adviser has also connected us with organisations and individuals throughout Scotland interested in what we are doing. All of which has helped us get to the stage we are now – on the cusp of launching a revolutionary process on an industrial scale.”
Keith Parsons, Business Gateway, said: “Being accepted onto our Growth Pipeline programme has provided CuanTec with expert guidance that will help take its innovative ideas to market. Support has included guidance to produce financial readiness documents, investigate market feasibility, and undertake an organisational development review. All of which is essential when establishing a business that has the potential to grow exponentially. The company is now extremely close to bringing products to market that could provide a real alternative to plastic.”
During CuanTec’s innovative fermentation process, a sold chitin, which is the second most abundant biopolymer in the world, is produced alongside a liquid which is rich in vitamins and protein that can be used as salmon feed. The chitin is then dried to resemble polystyrene then made into a bread-crumb like powder, chitosan. Once mixed with other natural ingredients, the chitosan provides an alternative to plastic that is durable, flexible and even edible.
Dr Taylor said: “Recent research by the UK Government has highlighted that if an alternative is not found, the amount of plastic littering our oceans will triple within the next 10 years. Plastics are indestructible, decomposing into microplastic which gets into the food chain; our product can be composted in under 90 days. It’s even edible, so it won’t choke wildlife or get tangled around sea life. We believe we have a real opportunity now to make a difference if we can get the backing we need. Everyone is part of the plastic pollution problem, we all need to be part of the solution, and an easy way to do that is to donate to our crowdfunding.”