D'IBERVILLE (WLOX)--Scientists from Mississippi State are working to turn shrimp shells into alternative fuel. Their research project uses the by-products from a shrimp processing plant to create an ingredient for bio-diesel petroleum.
It's a welcome idea at a time when fishermen are paying record prices for fuel.
Brian Gollott gave researchers a tour of his family's shrimp processing plant. Each of the peeling machines he pointed to can process up to two thousand pounds an hour.
But the scientists aren't interested in the Gulf shrimp that pass through the machines.
They're focused on the smelly by-product. Heads and hulls can be recycled into fuel.
"As corn prices go up, ethanol prices go up. As soybean prices go up, bio-diesel, traditional bio-diesel goes up. So, what we've done at Mississippi State University is we've tried to identify processes that are based on waste," said researcher Dr. Todd French.
That's why Dr. French brought his coolers: He's picking up seafood waste. The frozen bags of shrimp heads and hulls are destined for a lab.
A major component of the waste, something called chiton, is the key to creating fuel.
"Could we turn that chiton into a bio fuel. And we did some preliminary experiments at Mississippi State University and we were able to show that yes, our organisms were able to turn those components into an oil," he explained.
Preliminary numbers show that a year's worth of by-products from a plant like this could yield a million gallons of fuel.
"This is another option that we would love to look at. It sounds like, if it will work, that this will be great for our industry and for our country," said seafood executive Brian Gollott.
If the scientific process proves practical and economical, shrimpers could one day fuel their boats with bio diesel made with the by product of their own catch.
Scientists are excited by the preliminary findings, but some questions remain.
"At the end of the day, if we can't produce this fuel cost effectively, then what's the point in doing it?" says Dr. French.
The research project will help answer that critical question.
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