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Destructive insects produce high-value products from biowaste

Date: 15.10.2021 

European researchers and industries are putting insects to work – from termites that destroy wooden buildings to insect larvae that are star "poop" composters. Packaging, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and animal feed are just some of the products they are beetling away to make for us.

Kredit: ARS / USDA / Wikimedia Commons."In a nutshell, insects are prolific eaters and reproducers and, luckily for us, some are brilliant recyclers of waste," said Stéphanie Baumberger, a professor in green chemistry at the Paris Institute of Technology for Life, Food and Environmental Sciences (AgroParisTech), France. She and her team from the Zelcor project capitalized on the termite's ability to digest lignin, the woody material in plant cell walls. Renowned for causing damage to buildings, the whole colony of termites never sleeps and constantly feeds on its staple diet, wood.

Lignin is the main material that gives plants their structure. Without lignin, a plant would not be able to remain upright. In trees, lignin is particularly important as wood and bark are comprised primarily of lignin: it is rigid and doesn't easily decay. But this has a downside; lignin is relatively indestructible and therefore a challenge to efforts to produce sustainable energy and high-value chemicals from biowaste.

"We fed lignin biowaste to the termites to convert it into high added-value intermediate bioproducts," Prof. Baumberger outlined. "We mainly used waste from lignocellulose biorefineries and also included unused material from wood pulping in paper mills," she added.

 


 

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