A new company hiring in Jackson County helps convert shrimp hulls to high-tech products

The shrimp hull processing plant has found a location in west Jackson County, north of Interstate 10 at the old BFI plant on Armein Road, a dead end road off Tucker Road.
The shrimp hull processing plant has found a location in west Jackson County, north of Interstate 10 at the old BFI plant on Armein Road, a dead end road off Tucker Road.

Mari Signum, a fairly new company with a patented technology for extracting chitin from shrimp shells, has found a home in west Jackson County.

It tried to locate in Pascagoula, near the industrial east side this year, but the population was too dense and the notion of dealing with the smell of shrimp hulls too vivid, even though the company explained it has equipment to deal with that.

Everyone who has peeled shrimp at home knows you manage the hulls quickly and don’t let them sit in the kitchen trash for long.

This plant — Mari Signum Dragon Drying — will do that.

The design is to wash, dry and grind the hulls and ship them out. The process will deal with evaporating water. There are no chemicals, nothing toxic about it, said Danny Williamson, who is working to get the plant up and running. “It’s all green, just drying shrimp shells.”

Containers will be tight and the area washed down after trucks haul in the shells, Williamson told Pascagoula. Williamson, director of operations for this plant, is a former engineer with Chevron.

The ground shells will be sent to Richmond, Virginia, where they will undergo a process to extract chitin from them. Chitin is an organic substance like glucose that is used to make products that are antibacterial, anti-fungal, antimicrobial, antioxidant, nontoxic and hypoallergenic as listed on the company’s website.

On the website, it says Mari Signum is the only U.S.-based chitin production facility and produces premium, high molecular-weight chitin that is developed into uses in wound care, cosmetics, textiles, beverages, pharmaceuticals and U.S. military bandages.

“It is the biomass that we’re producing,” Williamson said. “Then there’s a sophisticated process to extract the chitin. We get about 25 percent chitin out of the shells.”

They are hoping to have an end product by first quarter next year.

This is the process

Shells will be brought in from processors around the Coast, instead of being hauled to a landfill in Pearl River County.

They will be put in a special pit designed to keep odors down, Williamson said, which cost $160,000 to design.

It will have a stainless steel lining that is perforated so water drips off. It has vacuums on the pit and a burner to burn odors. And after that, a filter system on the discharge.

The final exhaust will exit through a bed of pine bark, “so you should smell nothing but a pleasant pine smell,” he said. The hulls will be ground inside.

The company passed the Planning Commission’s test for a special exception — the property is zoned agricultural, so it needed that. There were only five property owners close enough to be notified. Two of those wrote letters in support, and one that lives in Lucedale opposed.

There will be a final approval by the county, but the company is now in the process of ordering equipment.

Location and jobs

The location will be off Tucker Road on a dead end street about 2 miles north of Interstate 10. It’s the site of the old BFI waste hauling plant.

“It’s a perfect location, a real good spot,” Williamson said. “You don’t know how bad I wanted this for the Mississippi Gulf Coast. I wanted to jump up and do one of those ‘yeah’ things.”

The company will have natural gas run to the plant and an larger power source. He said they hope to offer any neighbors on the street an opportunity to tie into gas as well.

The plan is to purchase the property, 3.2 acres, and the BFI building. It will be the only processing plant like it on the Coast.

“It gives Coast processors another alternative to eliminate this waste product,” Williamson said.

Slade White will be the general manager and is setting up a way to apply for jobs, Williamson said. “We will be hiring 12 to 20 initially. Maybe as many as 20-23 permanently.”

He called the jobs “better than average pay.”