This Scientist Is Making Batteries Out of Recycled Crab Shells

Shellfish chitin is a starting material ripe for chemical modification.

If you want to work in Mark MacLachlan’s lab, it helps to have a taste for seafood. The chemist, who works at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, is working on turning the discarded shells of shrimp, crabs, and lobsters into advanced materials that could be used in batteries, plastics, or even for growing new organs. And it is up to his students to provide a steady supply of carcasses.

“One of my students buys lobsters and crabs, eats them, and then brings the shells to work,” MacLachlan says. Another has managed to secure a free supply of shells from a seafood restaurant.

MacLachlan is after one particular component of the material that makes up the shells—chitin, a tough substance that is structurally similar to the cellulose in plant cell walls. Read more in Hakai.

Nature Outlook: Batteries

Batteries have the potential to transform the way we use energy, to make electric cars mainstream and to allow renewable energy sources, which tend to be intermittent, to be integrated into the power grid. Today’s best batteries are reaching their limits, but researchers are experimenting with new chemistries and designs. Read more in this Nature Outlook that I edited.