The Van Trump Report

Turning Chicken Feathers into Water Filters, Fabric, and More

Feathers are a low-value byproduct in the poultry production world, despite the fact that the industry generates as much as 3 billion pounds of chicken feathers every year in the US alone. A small portion finds its way into down products and insulation materials, as well as low-nutritional value animal feed. The majority is disposed of in various ways, most typically by incineration. However, researchers have been working on some new and interesting uses for this byproduct that could help reduce the industry’s waste and maybe add greater value to feathers.

One project comes from the University of Alberta where Muhammad Zubair, a bioresource technologist, has found a way to improve how keratin from feathers absorbs heavy metals. Previous research has shown that chicken feathers naturally absorb heavy metal ions from wastewater. Zubair and his team improved the absorption rate by modifying the properties of the keratin with two chemical agents. Treating the feathers created more surface area, allowing the bio-based filter to simultaneously remove up to 99% of eight heavy metals – arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, lead, nickel, selenium, and zinc. All of the toxins are also commonly found in wastewater used in processing industries such as oil, gas and mining. Though only tested in simulated synthetic water for poultry use, the adsorbent technology has the potential to be used in wastewater from oil and gas processing and other chemical-related industries as well, according to Zubair. You can learn more HERE

A new facility in Singapore, the Nanyang Technical University Singapore (NTU Singapore) poultry processing plant, is repurposing its chicken feathers into egg trays. To create the egg trays, feather fibers are dried at room temperature for four days and then mixed with an unsaturated polyester resin. In lab tests, the tray withstood nearly two times the amount of force compared to conventional plastic trays. The material can also be used for meat trays. Chicken feathers contain keratin, a type of protein also found in human hair and nails. Using feathers to create the packaging trays means the product is biodegradable, unlike regular plastic trays made using synthetic polymers derived from petroleum oil. Learn more HERE

University of Nebraska researchers think chicken feathers could have huge value as a fabric fiber. Dr. Yiqi Yang’s research focuses on devising and testing methods to improve the strength and color of fabric-based fibers. These methods include cross-linking or finding ways to chemically bond long protein chains, such as keratin, a water-resistant protein in feathers, to create fabrics that perform and feel like the fabrics currently on the market. In a study conducted by Yang and his team, a cross-linking class known as saccharide aldehydes was experimented with. “By modifying the molecular structure and concentration of the aldehydes, the team developed keratin fibers substantially stronger than those produced via another popular cross-linker, citric acid,” notes the university. The fibers possessed 90% of wool’s strength after long-term immersion in water and 120% of wool’s strength under dry conditions. The fibers also outperformed in their ability to retain and absorb dies. And, according to Yang, given the low cost of feathers, keratin-based fibers would likely cost less than wool. Learn more HERE

London-based startup Aeropowder uses chicken feathers to make their “Pluumo” packaging material. The biodegradable product is meant to insulate perishable food and replace polystyrene (a non-recyclable material used for packaging) in food delivery and grocery e-commerce. According to CEO and cofounder Dr. Ryan Robinson, a biological scientist, Aeropowder initially focused on turning waste feathers into building insulation. However, they were soon approached by companies looking to use Pluumo as a packaging insulator, so they pivoted to develop a product for food transport. According to the company, Pluumo outperforms expanded polystyrene by 20%. The company is also still working to create feather-based insulation products for the construction and automotive industries. Learn more HERE

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