MarinaTex, a bioplastic from the sea

Posted on 15 October 2020.

Invented by an English student, this bio-sourced and biodegradable material made from fish waste and red algae resembles plastic... but doesn’t have its drawbacks.

If this material were to end up in the ocean, it would pose no danger to the fish.

As a young graduate of the University of Sussex in south-east England, Lucy Hughes is developing a bio-sourced and biodegradable material based on organic fish waste and red algae. Resistant, flexible and virtually transparent, the idea is to replace single-use plastic, particularly in packaging. The young woman won the James Dyson Award in 2019 for her invention.

It all began when, during her studies, she had the opportunity to visit a fish factory. Bones, offal, skins, scales... The fish and aquaculture processing industry generates an impressive amount of waste. And this waste has a lot of potential, especially the fish skins and scales, on which Lucy Hughes decided to focus her research. To transform these fishery by-products into bioplastics, she spent several months conducting hundreds of experiments in her small kitchen to find the right binder to bind together the proteins extracted from the skins and scales.

Eventually, she set her sights on agar-agar, found in a species of red algae locally available on the Sussex coast, and created a material she calls MarinaTex.

 

From prototype to patent

This new material resembles plastic, but unlike plastic, it decomposes in four to six weeks without the need for industrial composting (which is an advantage over conventional compostable plastics). So, if it were to end up in the ocean, it would not pose a danger to the fish.

MarinaTex is still at the prototype stage, but Lucy Hughes has calculated that her material could be cost-competitive, "because it can be processed at low temperatures, saving energy compared to plastic production, and is based on waste rather than oil," says Fast Company.
Thanks to the James Dyson Award, the young woman can continue developing her product, which she intends to patent. Manufacturers and major retailers have already expressed interest in this project.