An accidental discovery by an LSU professor could help Mardi Gras "go green."
Every year tens of thousands of plastic beads end up on the street and eventually make their way to landfills. It's not environmentally friendly, but that could change.
LSU Biological Sciences Professor Dr. Naohiro Kato has come up with an innovative way to make biodegradable Mardi Gras beads. Kato says it happened really by accident three years ago when one of his graduate students forgot to place a lab experiment of algae in the refrigerator overnight. Kato noticed the algae making oils, which he thought could be used to make the biodegradable beads. The bio-plastic blend will eventually disintegrate in the soil.
For years Kato and friends in New Orleans had talked about ways to make Mardi Gras more green and thought this could be the solution.
Dr. Kato showed us a regular bead and the bead he has produced and they're virtually identical. The major difference is cost. The biodegradable beads cost up to 3 to 10 times more to make than the cheaper beads. He's also made doubloons.
"The question I always get is how much can I make. And my answer is zero. Because again the Mardi Gras beads that are causing the problem is the least expensive ones. According to my calculation about five cents for each strand," explained Kato.
Kato is already looking at ways to make the process affordable. In order to compete, he proposes growing the microalgae on a large scale. The same algae can be used to make vitamins and supplements for the nutriceutical industry, which is in demand and highly profitable. While the majority of the biomass will be used for the nutriceutical venture, the excess leftover used to produce the biodegradable beads.
To make it work they need to grow the microalgae in a pond the size of a football field, which shouldn't be that hard to come by in Louisiana. He expects it to take three years and says it's a step in the right direction.
"Louisiana is one of the best places to grow microalgae because of the warm weather, water-rich area," said Kato. "So we need to test it step by step to make sure the algae can grow in the pond. We know it can be done because in California, Hawaii, Japan, Israel -- people are growing algae for their businesses on that scale. But no one down here is doing it in this area."
Kato has a patent pending for the biodegradable beads.
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