Giving the consumer a voice in research
Scientists in BlueCC want to use marine co-products and invasive species in new products, such as creams and dietary supplements. And they want consumers to control the direction of the research.
Nofima leads the project Commercial exploitation of collagen and chitin from marine sources (BlueCC). The scientists involved seek to extract collagen and chitin from invasive species that appear in European waters or end up as by-catch from commercial fishing.
Collagen and chitosan are natural biopolymers. They are often used in cosmetics and dietary supplements. The market for these ingredients is enormous, especially for collagen. The collagen market is valued at around $8.6 billion worldwide, according to Forbes.
They also aim to find a way to exploit lumpfish, a cleaner fish from aquaculture. Lumpfish, starfish, and jellyfish may become valuable sources of collagen. Chitosan is a derivative of chitin, which, in turn, is extracted from crabs and other crustaceans.
Runar Gjerp Solstad leads the project from Nofima in Tromsø, Norway. He has high ambitions for what the project will achieve, and explains that the aim is twofold:
“We have taken a more consumer-driven approach to this research. This means that we are conducting surveys to identify consumer demand and can adjust our focus area of research accordingly,” says Solstad.
“Then will we try to extract collagen and chitin from the most consumer-friendly marine co-products, using more sustainable methods,” he says.
“We find that research becomes a more democratic process when you ask consumers what they need and want”, says Themis Altintzoglou, a market researcher at Nofima.
Last year, he conducted a survey that involved over a thousand UK consumers. The aim was to map the demand for potential products containing collagen or chitosan deriving from specific marine species.
“Putting ‘the consumer first’ is a bit unique in this type of research. The way market researchers ask questions enables them to identify what the consumer wants and needs”, Solstad says.
After the survey results are analysed, it is possible to make informed strategies for product development and research.
“We already have a very exciting lead that we have started to follow. It may increase our chances of success with new products”, Solstad reveals.
About the project
- BlueCC has eight partners from six different countries
- The project has received €2 million in funding from the EU, The Norwegian Research Council and other European research councils.
- Seven academic partners and one Norwegian industry partner participate in the project, which concludes in the summer of 2023.
- BlueCC has its own website, which you can find here
Solstad adds that the project also has significant ‘green’ ambitions. In addition to using underutilised marine resources, the team of scientists will also adopt more sustainable extraction methods.
“Collagen and chitin are insoluble in water. To extract the raw material a lot of acids or alkalis are required. We want to use more environmentally friendly chemicals. Right now, we are looking at using a special strain of bacteria for this purpose”, says Solstad.
German research partner IME Fraunhofer found the strain of bacteria. They hope that it can be the key to sustainably extracting chitosan.
Solstad admits that the project has bold aims. In fact, the research funders expressed concern that the project was trying out too many things at the same time.
“They stated that we were exceptionally ambitious. But I think that it is all too common for people to not be ambitious enough, to be surer of their success,” he says, and adds:
“We are going to find new methods for turning marine bio-waste into co-products and make prototypes for new and eco-friendly products. We believe that pushing oneself to explore something new is valuable in itself”.