A REVOLUTIONARY food wrap made from shellfish could end up in every kitchen in the world, save millions for the food sector and slash pollution, it is claimed.

Made from discarded langoustine shells taken from Scotland’s seafood sector, developers say the material will kill bugs, extend shelf life and biodegrade without trace.

The scientists hope their product will replace the plastic cling film commonly used in the food industry and at home.

Cait Murray-Green, chief executive officer of CuanTec, told The National: “There is an unlimited market. This could end up being a new roll of cling film in every house, it could be vacuum packed around every chicken, every salmon fillet that you buy.

“This could be used in so many ways. We expect our customers to be worldwide.”

The team at CuanTec, a Strathclyde University spin-off, began working on the project more than two years ago. Now, having secured investment worth six figures, they have just one year to prove their patentable method works, and pave the way for production on an industrial scale.

The firm, which takes its name from the Gaelic word for sea, aims to “solve the world’s problems of landfill and food waste” by helping fresh produce last longer and offering a better alternative to plastics and chemically-processed products.

If successful, it could see Scotland corner the global market in the production of chitosan, a biopolymer used in glues and dyes which is based on a substance found in langoustine shells.

Currently factories extract chitin, the most abundant naturally occurring biopolymer in the world, from the raw material using harmful acid and caustic soda.

The process also requires high levels of energy and leads to toxic byproducts and greenhouse gases.

But the new method developed by the Scots team will rely on biology instead of chemistry, minimising the power needed and producing safe byproducts that can be sold to create fish food.

The wrap made from the resulting chitosan will be anti-microbial, beating the bugs that can colonise chilled foods, compostable and biodegradable, meaning the natural product can dissolve back into the earth.

Currently lower-grade versions of chitosan are made in China, Vietnam and Thailand, while energy-rich Norway and Iceland dominate the higher end of the chain.

The natural hydro and geothermal energy resources there have allowed these nearby nations to keep production affordable, with vast tanks of raw matter heated to up to 100°C for hours at a time to allow the chemicals to work.

Led by chief operating officer Dr Ryan Taylor, CuanTec, which is based at the Biocity life sciences hub near Motherwell, says its version will be made at room temperature instead, greatly reducing the environmental impact.

Scientific consultant Murray-Green said: “We are going to get the chitosan through biological fermentation. It doesn’t take up a huge amount of energy. It might take more time, but we are going to let nature take its course. We will be able to capture the carbon dioxide that results and change it into a by-product to be sold for fish food.

“Academics have been able to get this type of method to work on a workbench. It’s totally different when you are trying to do it on an industrial scale.

“Can we get it to work? We believe that the science is on our side.”

Spoiled produce costs Scotland’s fish industry £60 million a year and officials estimate that just four UK supermarket chains send 200,000 tonnes of waste to landfill annually.

In the EU as a whole, food waste is thought to total 89m tonnes a year and this is predicted to rise to 126m tonnes within four years.

Murray-Green says CuanTec can help and after sourcing raw materials from Scotland’s fish firms, it aims to sell its finished product back to them.

Fencebay Fisheries, based in Fairlie near Largs, is among supporters. Owner Tom Campbell said: “We at Fencebay pride ourselves on delicious food because we minimise the over-smoking and over-brining of our produce. There is a downside in that it results in a shorter shelf life. However, CuanTec’s products will help to solve that for us and our customers.”

Wendy Hanson, innovation team leader at project backer Scottish Enterprise, said: “CuanTec is doing something hugely innovative that could disrupt the market, while making excellent use of a circular economy approach to exploit waste products from the fisheries industry.”

Dr David McBeth, director of research and knowledge exchange services at Strathclyde University, said: “CuanTec presents an imaginative solution to major environmental and economic challenges by creating new and sustainable uses for by-products of premium-price food production which would otherwise be wasted at considerable cost.

“CuanTec is the latest of many companies to emerge from Strathclyde which demonstrate our status as an innovative and entrepreneurial university. It is a significant addition to our extensive portfolio of start-ups and spin-outs and we are delighted to have supported its creation as the third investment from our Strathclyde Entrepreneurs Fund, which our enterprising alumni and supporters helped create by their generous donations.”