Published 1 year ago.
About a 6 minute read.
Image: Francesco Ungaro/Pexels
Washington-based startup Tidal Vision upcycles discarded crab shells to produce chitosan — a positively charged biopolymer with myriad applications in
sustainable water treatment, textile production, agriculture and more.
The United States alone processes about 34 billion gallons of
every day — globally, the wastewater treatment
reached $250.38 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach $ 462.49 billion
by 2030. You might think that public health concerns would’ve necessitated a
number of safe methods for treating and disposing of wastewater around the world
— but you’d be wrong: Conventional, non-biodegradable treatment products utilize
cationic (positively charged) metals such as aluminum and iron to remove anionic
(negatively charged) contaminants in water. These traditional treatment
solutions also contain petroleum-derived polymers such as
which are known to be
carcinogenic to the
human body if not adequately filtered out.
These metals and polymers end up in the wastewater
sludge — the
which is applied directly to the soil or landfilled, posing risk of ecosystem
contamination. Improper coagulation can also result in higher concentrations of
remaining metals in treated drinking water, which has been
linked to negative
health impacts on the brain.
Enter Tidal Vision — a startup founded by an
intrepid creative thinker who found a potentially game-changing, circular solution being
tossed out at a local fishery.
Chitosan — the main component of shrimp and crab shells — is
for being non-toxic, fully biodegradable and the world’s only natural cationic
biopolymer. Thanks to a
thriving crab industry, chitosan is the second most common biopolymer in the
world — and until
recently, no viable methods existed to extract chitosan from underutilized crab
Truly sustainable businesses address the many interconnected social and environmental challenges that brands and their customers face — and strive for net-positive outcomes and impacts, in addition to growth. SB's latest guidebook can help your company navigate the path toward enhanced brand sustainability with key insights, actionable steps and a holistic framework that defines a roadmap for good growth.
For many years, chitosan has been used to bind
in industrial and construction runoff. Its mainstream adoption in municipal
wastewater treatment and its many other applications was undeveloped until Tidal
Vision founder Craig Kasberg dusted off an old book in an Alaskan fishing
Kasberg started off in commercial fishing in Alaska, where he noticed tons
of wasted crab shells being landfilled or illegally dumped in international
waters. He found a book on chitosan sitting on a shelf in his cabin — the
beginning of his quest to utilize fishing waste for good.
Kasberg’s first incarnation of Tidal Vision upcycled crab shells and other
common forms of fishery waste such as salmon skin into
— on a mission to give sustainable fisheries, which are often at an economic
disadvantage relative to their competitors, a leg up by creating an additional
revenue stream from the sale of their waste products.
Fast-forward a few years and Tidal Vision has pivoted away from textiles and
become the only vertically integrated chitosan solution manufacturer in the
world, and the only commercial-scale chitosan producer in the US. With a
process of cheaply and sustainably
manufacturing chitosan from upcycled crab shells, Tidal Vision embarked on a
journey to liquify it for water-treatment applications. The result is an
effective natural coagulant and flocculant that’s price-competitive with
mainstream treatment solutions.
“[Kasberg] adopted first-principles thinking and went back to the raw basics on
how to manufacture chitosan from crab shells,” Peter Moore, SVP of Sales and
Marketing at Tidal Vision, told Sustainable Brands™.
The company’s proprietary, zero-waste manufacturing process produces chitosan in
a liquid form that is
and cheaper than the metal coagulants traditionally used in wastewater treatment
plants. In the wastewater treatment process, chitosan’s net-positive charge acts
like a magnet, naturally binding to negatively charged pollutants in
contaminated water for easy filtering. Following its use, only clarified water
“Our goal is to have mass adoption of chitosan globally to offset synthetic
chemicals and provide positive systemic change,” Moore says.
Tidal Vision’s Tidal Clear™ solution has
by NSF International for sale to water treatment
facilities — marking an industry shift towards prioritizing healthier, more
sustainable solutions. With Tidal Clear, the chitosan left in the sludge is
non-toxic, biodegradable, and — unlike sludge treated with conventional metals
and synthetic materials —has an additional benefit to ecosystems: A
bio-elicitor, chitosan tricks
plants into thinking they’re being attacked by insects, leading to higher yields
and stronger plants.
Industry demand for cationic biopolymers is huge, Moore says, and goes well
beyond the scope of water treatment.
“[Chitosan] is a fertilizer enhancer, it's a fungicide, it's a growth promoter,”
he said. “Those are huge industries; and we are strategically poised to
significantly offset the chemicals used in those markets within the next 12-24
Tidal Vision is investing heavily in new hires, studies and certifications to
help it bring its chitosan-based water-treatment solution global. Other markets
are also on the horizon, such as bioplastics, pool maintenance, agriculture,
food preservation (another Tidal Vision product, Game Meat
Protector, takes advantage of
the cationic nature of chitosan to discourage pathogens from binding to the
surface of foods, thus expanding shelf life) and back to textiles —chitosan can
replace metals and synthetic materials currently used to give fabrics
antimicrobial, moisture-wicking and flame-suppressant properties.
Chitosan can also add value for meat and dairy processing plants, whose
wastewater is laden with valuable fats and proteins; the biodegradable nature of
chitosan means these valuable materials could now be recovered — an
impossibility using metal-based coagulants and flocculants, Moore said.
Though a full LCA and impact statements aren’t yet publicly available, Tidal
Vision is hiring an impact analyst to craft a public-facing report. The study
will include the net-positive impacts of the product as it relates to metal and
synthetic offsets, waste reductions, emissions avoidance and more.
“This is something we’re going to broadcast and be extremely transparent about,”
Moore said. “[Emissions reduction] is a huge positive that chitosan is creating
for the environment; so that’s something we want to measure down to the
Tidal Clear™ is being piloted in a few municipalities, he said. They're under
NDAs, so details can’t be divulged; but Moore expects pilots to reach conclusive
results within months. The company’s two US plants are ready to deliver chitosan
products to more municipalities eager for sustainable water-treatment solutions.
“There are multiple municipalities across the United States that are very keen
to find more sustainable solutions that have positive, systemic impacts on the
environment,” Moore said.
A public-facing impact assessment for several Tidal Vision products will be
available in the third quarter of 2022.
Published Apr 26, 2022 8am EDT / 5am PDT / 1pm BST / 2pm CEST
Christian is a writer, photographer, filmmaker, and outdoor junkie obsessed with the intersectionality between people and planet. He partners with brands and organizations with social and environmental impact at their core, assisting them in telling stories that change the world.