Each year, processors dispose of thousands of pounds of lobster shells left behind after the meat is removed. Researchers have been examining ways to use the discarded shells in products ranging from fish food to golf balls, which could provide revenue that would be funneled back into the industry.

Beth Fulton, a food science student at the University of Maine, spent the last two years working with advisor Denise Skonberg, an associate professor of food science, to determine whether pigment in lobster shells could be extracted and used for coloring in food for farm-raised salmon.

Lobster shells are rich in carotenoid—ranging in color from yellow to red—which are pigments that can’t be synthesized in salmon.

Farmed salmon get their color from what they eat, Fulton explained, and commercial fish food contains synthetic carotenoid, some of which comes from petroleum products. Fulton hopes one day the lobster shell pigment could become a green alternative to synthetic carotenoids, creating a secondary market for lobster. That market could be substantial, she said, because consumers are demanding that natural carotenoids be used.

Fulton won grants for her research but the funds ran out so she will be graduating without taking her research to the next step. She hopes another researcher will pick up where she left off and take the research a step farther, if funding can be secured.

“We’ve determined that the pigment can be extracted,” she said Fulton. “I’ve left all of my notes and materials with my advisor.”


Lobster shells also are being studied for their potential as material to make biodegradable golf balls, a product sought by the cruise ship industry.

Several years ago, UMaine graduate student Carin Poeschel Orr came up with the idea of using lobster shells to make the golf balls which then can be driven off the deck of cruise ships or from land in areas near lakes or the ocean. The practice of hitting golf balls into the sea was discontinued in the late 1980s after an international treaty banned dumping plastic in the ocean.

After Orr shared the idea with Robert Bayer, executive director of the Maine Lobster Institute, Bayer began experimenting. Consulting with UMaine biological and chemical engineering professor David Nievandt and biological engineering student Alex Waddell, an avid golfer, the succeeded in making the biodegradeable golf ball.

The golf ball has been patented and is ready to be marketed, Nievandt said.

“We’re still trying to consider how to commercialize it,” he said. “Ideally, the university would like to take it to a company that would produce it.”


Meanwhile, Aron Buterbaugh, the owner of Beachstone, Inc. is making several products using lobster shells, as well as shells from mussels, clams, oysters and scallops. Based in South Portland, Buterbaugh is also developing vanities, bathroom countertops, tile accessories and tabletops for patio furniture, coffee tables for the home and restaurant dining room tables from the shells. Many of his products also use recycled glass.

For more information, see beachstone.biz.

A Mount Desert Island-based company, Eco Sea Tile, is using recycled lobster, mussel and clam shells to make tiles with a hardness reportedly comparable to formica. The business has produced a line of coasters, paper weights, magnets and home furnishings (see ecoseatile.com).

Researchers also have reported that a substance known as “chitosan,” a biodegradable sugar found in the shells of shrimp, lobster, and crabs, is valuable for medical uses. a. A study conducted at the Center for Paralysis Research at Purdue University School of Veterinary Medicine showed commercially prepared chitosan could target and repair damaged spinal cord nerve membranes and restore nerve function in guinea pigs.

Dr. Richard Borgens, known for developing therapies for treating nerve damage, along with a chemist Youngnam Cho and physiologist Riyi Shi, reported their findings in the April 16, 2010 Journal of Experimental Biology. In a 2013 interview, Borgens stressed that while he was encouraged by the results of the study, no research has been done yet on humans.

The authors of the article “Development of Hemostatic Dressings for Use in Military Operations” reported that chitosan also helps to control external bleeding. They reported that a manufacturing company, HemCon Inc., received FDA approval for the use of their chitosan-coated gauze dressings to control external bleeding. The Hem Con Inc. product was recommended for use in treating battle wounds in Afghanistan and Iraq.