Turning A Gooey Mess Into Gobs Of Cash

EVERY YEAR, EGG-PROCESSING COMPANIES dispose of 120,000 tons of eggshells. But a discovery by food scientists at Penn State University promises to help companies cut that waste and make money in the process. Led by professor emeritus Joseph H. MacNeil, the team has found a way to detach the thin membranes lining the insides of eggs from the shells.

With the membranes attached, the shells are worth only $20 a ton. But without them, the shells can be used as a pulp substitute by the paper industry and are worth 10 times as much. The membranes, which contain a protein called collagen, are even more valuable, potentially worth hundreds of dollars a gram, thanks to their medical applications.

MacNeil's patent-pending separation method employs a machine that contains razor-sharp blades to scrape the sticky membranes off the insides of the shells. Philadelphia-based Cutler Egg Products Inc. has licensed MacNeil's design to build a prototype that can process the shells on a commercial scale--roughly 15 tons of waste eggshells a day.