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Naohiro Kato

A biological sciences professor at LSU is working to reduce the cost of his formula for biodegradable Mardi Gras beads.

Professor Naohiro Kato has patent applications pending on various formulations and methods of making the biodegradable beads that could help prevent tens of thousands of pounds of plastic Mardi Gras beads from entering the environment every year.

For one of his inventions, Kato has developed a process in which to grow a species of microscopic algae called diatoms, harvest it and process it into a powder that can form throw beads and doubloons. After the fun is over, these celebratory throws will biodegrade in soil in about one to two years.

The biggest challenge to production, according to a news release, is offsetting the high cost to manufacture a more environmentally sustainable bead. Kato estimates that it will cost about $40,000 to produce the first batch of 3,000 biodegradable bead necklaces or about $13 per necklace; although a second batch could be produced for $1 or less per necklace. He has received some assistance from the LSU Board of Supervisors’ Leveraging Innovation for Technology Transfer grant. He also has been approached by angel investors.

Meanwhile, Kato has identified a viable market for the extraction of various compounds found in algae that could help offset the cost of the beads — the nutraceutical industry, which distributes nature-based products for supplements, cosmetics and food, could benefit from the sourcing of these materials from algae.

From the diatoms he has grown, Kato has been able to extract an antioxidant called fucoxanthin, which has been shown to have natural anti-cancer properties as well. Fucoxanthin is a highly valuable product equating to about a $300 million industry. Kato said he can sell about 1 pound of the powered form of fucoxanthin for roughly $50,000.

The byproduct after extracting fucoxanthin includes other proteins from the algae that would be used to make the biodegradable beads. Kato is collaborating with professor Dorin Boldor on the extraction process. Similarly, professor Qinglin Wu is working on developing another variation of a bead made with wood fiber that also could be used to make Mardi Gras throws more environmentally friendly.

Meanwhile, Kato is in discussion with a nutraceutical company and awaiting a contract in order to begin production of biodegradable Mardi Gras beads.