Abertay University has launched a £5 million research funding bid that could transform the lives of millions of Vietnamese fishermen.
Food waste technology expert Professor Constantinos Stathopoulos is leading a new project that aims to harness waste from the fisheries industry to create usable materials like biodegradable plastics.
A teaching, conferencing and networking trip to Vietnam saw the Abertay food and drink division leader agree a bid to the Global Challenges Research Fund, in partnership with the highly regarded Nha Trang University on the country’s east coast.
If successful in attracting the funding, which is worth between £4m and £5m, the work has the potential to provide a major boost to Vietnam’s fisheries industry, which exported an estimated £7bn worth of product last year.
Prof Stathopoulos said, 'This project has huge potential for increased income and productivity with fisheries being the mainstay of communities in Vietnam.
'My research focusses on extracting valuable things out of waste. In this context, it is fisheries. In the likes of Australia, it was fruit.
'To extract those things allows you to potentially make other products, increase income and reduce waste, thereby maximising efficiency in the supply chain.
'If it is apples, you get antioxidants. If you do the same with cherries, you get purple colouring.
'With fisheries, it is things you can use for biodegradable plastics like films and coatings.
'It makes the most of the catch. When you eat a prawn, 40 to 50 percent goes in the bin.
'If we can make things out of that, the producers can make money and have to throw away less.
'And when you are talking this sort of volume, if matters because they have to pay to get rid of the waste.'
Abertay will spearhead the project, tapping into expertise from its School of Science, Engineering and Technology and Dundee Business School.
Nha Trang is the main international partner and other institutions are involved.
The research will focus on using water as a base for the extraction of useful items from fisheries waste, rather than organic solvents that can be toxic or difficult to handle.
The project will see substances such as chitsan, chitin and peptides gathered, all of which all have broad applications.
The trip to Vietnam also yielded a research collaboration grant worth £20,000 that will see Prof Stathopoulos and Abertay lecturer Dr Jon Wilkin visit Nha Trang in March.
Two of their staff will then come to Dundee for three months over the summer to strengthen links.
While in Vietnam, Prof Stathopoulos also taught an international programme as a guest lecturer at Nong Lam University and spoke on sustainable agriculture and the environment at a conference organised in collaboration with the University of California, Davis.
He then travelled to Thailand where productive collaboration talks were held with Siam University.