LSU professor refines process to make biodegradable Mardi Gras beads

LSU professor refines process to make biodegradable Mardi Gras beads
Strands of Mardi Gras beads hang from the branches of a tree along Napoleon Avenue in the Uptown area of New Orleans.

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An LSU researcher is refining a process to make biodegradable beads that could keep tens of thousands of pounds of plastic beads from entering the environment each year.

Naohiro Kato, associate professor with LSU Department of Biological Sciences, developed a process that involves growing and harvesting microscopic algae called diatoms. The algae is then made into a powder that can form throw beads and doubloons. These celebratory throws will biodegrade in soil in about one to two years.

Offsetting the high cost to manufacture the biodegradable bead is the biggest challenge to production. Kato projects a $40,000 cost to produce the first batch of 3,000 biodegradable bead necklaces or about $13 per necklace. The second batch could be produced for $1 or less per necklace.

The process entails extracting an antioxidant called fucoxanthin, a compound found naturally in seaweed and is shown to have natural anti-cancer properties as well. Fucoxanthin is a highly valuable product equating to about a $300 million industry. Kato said a pound of the powdered form of fucoxanthin can sell for roughly $50,000.

The by-product after extracting fucoxanthin includes other proteins from the algae that would be used to make the biodegradable beads.

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Kato is in discussion with a nutraceutical company and awaiting a contract in order to begin production of the biodegradable beads.

LSU Board of Supervisors’ Leveraging Innovation for Technology Transfer, or the LIFT2 grant, has been funding the project. He has also been approached by angel investors.

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