A team of researchers from the Materials Science and Engineering division of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) is working on turning chicken feathers into fiber.
“Currently the feathers are practically seen as waste,” said Andrew Poole, the head of the team. “They are rendered down as a low value stock feed or in some places, I believe, they are dumped.”
Poole noted that feathers have good chemical and mechanical properties and are systematically produced in a reliable production pipeline, which could be a huge benefit for any industry that wants to use them.
The project aims to find a replacement for the 84 billion pounds of petrochemical-based synthetic fibers produced annually, and the team is focusing on protein fibers instead of plant-based cellulosic fibers.
Keratin, which is what chicken feathers are comprised of, is a protein fiber. Keratin is also a main component of wool.
Chicken feathers are an ideal choice for the research because the supply is guaranteed and the quality is consistent.
Around 11 billion pounds of feathers a year are produced globally and that number is expected to rise as the demand for chicken continues to grow.
To turn the feathers into fiber, the researchers wash and dry the feathers, grind them up, dissolve them, make them into a keratin solution and then reform that solution as a fiber.