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(157h) Techno-Economic Analysis for Rapid Commercialization of Chitin Nanofiber Suspensions for Barrier Applications

Satam, C. C., Georgia Institute of Technology
Geran, R. K., Georgia Institute of Technology
Coffey, C. J., Georgia Institute of Technology
Realff, M. J., Georgia Institute of Technology
Meredith, J. C., Georgia Institute of Technology
A significant challenge in the development of sustainable chemicals and plastics is establishing an explicit link between fundamental materials discovery and cost-effective process development that supports commercialization. Techno economic analysis (TEA) is a very valuable tool in the synthesis and design of processes to make biofuels and bioproducts. TEA is at the core of optimized process economics, minimized environmental impact, and establishing the competitive advantage of innovative products over the existing slate. It can be especially useful to identify research and development opportunities that enhance the viability of bioproducts and bring them to commercialization. Chitin is one of the most abundant biopolymers found in crustacean shells, insect exoskeletons and fungi. It’s natural production rivals that of cellulose. In its nanofiber form, chitin is found to have excellent oxygen barrier properties comparable with poly(ethylene terephthalate). Chitin nanofibers (ChNF) are produced from purified chitin using high pressure homogenization often requiring multiple passes. TEA was performed on the entire production process of ChNFs from crab shells. The TEA concluded that homogenization is the most energy and capital intensive unit operation contributing to 57 % of the operating cost and 58 % of the installed cost of the manufacturing process. In order to reduce the cost of ChNFs, and increase the ease of homogenization, a controlled deacetylation process was applied to the chitin. The influence of pressure on homogenization process of deacetylated chitin was also studied. It is found that suspensions of deacetylated chitin reach higher light transmission values at 1/3rd the number of passes as required by their non-deacetylated form. The nanofibers from this deacetylated chitin were then cast into films and compared with those from non-deacetylated chitin. It was found that controlled deacetylation can increase tensile strength by 150 % and strain at break also was found to increase by 200 %. The oxygen permeability of the deacetylated material was similar to that of the non-deacetylated material. In addition, it was also found that the deacetylated material could be homogenized at lower pressures of around 8000 psi as compared to non-deacetylated material which requires pressures of 22000 psi. TEA on a modified process was performed to discover that the modified process with a deacetylation step reduces the installed equipment cost by 60 %. The resulting manufacturing costs of ChNFs are decreased by 38 %. Additional process modifications were also evaluated, the most significant of which envisioned integration with a pulp mill and the final integrated and streamlined process resulted in a 83 % reduction in cost of manufacture of ChNFs. These developments show how traditional TEA techniques can benefit sustainable materials processing and bring them closer to commercialization.