Chitosan – Potentials for regional structures

madeLocal is about the idea of fusing an insect farm, chitosan production and processing. The fictional company is a collective of designers and natural scientists. It specializes in developing regional, circular collaborations in the context of the bioplastic chitosan. madeLocal researches potential sustainable partnerships, integrates into existing structures and expands them. They focus on the design, economical and ecological potentials of chitosan as well as on the benefits of insect farming. A service, that madeLocal offers, is flyWear, a circular eyewear leasing system in which the chitosan used in the frames is maintained in a small bioplastic loop.

video of Max’ presentation
Max Greiner
project:full circle
examined bioplastic:
material expert support:

Dr. Jonas Finck

full concept text

Next to cellulose, chitin is the second most abundant biopolymer. It is found in insect shells, fungi and marine organisms, among others. In shells and skins, it protects against enemies and environmental influences or can shine like gold simply through a certain structure and layering. Chitin is paper-thin and flexible in one combination, razor-sharp and harder than steel in another. Nature has found ways to perfect its polymers for the specific fields of application. In spite of the enormous occurrence and the overwhelming properties, the potentials inherent in this material are hardly used. In my case, I would like to source chitosan, a chitin derivative, from an insect farm and consider what potential this regionally sourced bioplastic holds. The fictional company madeLocal deals with this concept. 

The first point at which madeLocal can be linked is in agriculture. The areas of vegetable and fruit cultivation, as well as chicken farming, offer several material flows that complement the insect farm and thus support its establishment. Not much space is needed for such a farm, as the insects take up extremely little space. A small barn or container is sufficient to start with. The primary use of the farmed larvae is as a protein source for animal feed, thus providing a regional, sustainable substitute for fish or soy protein. The maggots can feed on organic residues from the above-mentioned areas, e.g. crop rejects or organic waste. The use of maggots therefore opens up another, much more direct way of adding value: the conversion of nutrients into proteins and organic fertiliser (residues converted by the maggots), which can be used in crop cultivation. As soon as the own demand for the products from the insect farm is covered, all materials produced beyond that can be sold to surrounding industries and companies; garden centres, greenhouses, pet shops, etc.. The next step is the extraction of the chitosan from the collected insect exoskeletons, or larvae husks. This step happens at madeLocal (detailed process on the infographic on insect farm outputs, as well as chitosan extraction). The required chemicals are combined and neutralised after use, released calcium and proteins can also be used as animal feed.

The extracted chitosan now offers the foundation for numerous opportunities and profitable cooperations. In the initial stages, madeLocal is looking for various cooperation partners in order to evaluate the project’s chances of success. The key aspects are primarily research knowledge in insect farming and chitosan extraction/processing, as well as economic and design expertise. The madeLocal experts work on the design of services and products in separate, independent projects. The aim is to bring successful projects to life and to link local actors with each other.

I have simulated such a cooperation on a circular leasing of glasses, where the chitosan used in the frames of the glasses is kept in a small bioplastic loop. Especially when it comes to children, the frames change more frequently due to growth, changing dioptres or careless use. Short life cycles are quite normal here. Chitosan frames therefore have no claim to a long life, as they are designed to be quickly recycled back into new uses. If the glasses are broken or have become too small, the model goes back to the optician. There it is exchanged for a new pair. The old or broken frame is then taken to madeLocal, where it is recycled and reprocessed using a simple procedure. This involves shredding, a water and acid bath, and drying. Recovered chitosan is added to the new chitosan, which is then reused in a new frame or other chitosan-based applications that result from the various collaborations. Starch and glycerine are used as additives in the eyewear plastic.
Both are obtained by madeLocal from regional sources: Starch from production residues of the potato industry and glycerine as a by-product of biodiesel production. Glycerine makes the plastic flexible, it does not become brittle during the drying process and does not tear. Starch gives the plastic hardness and stability. In order to make a frame out of mono-material that nevertheless has a flexible joint, the different qualities of chitosan are used in a two-part casting process. First, the frame and the temples are cast individually and then dried. Afterwards, a chitosan mix with a different mixing ratio of additives is poured into the joint. When dried, this is flexible and elastic.