New research suggests that chicken feathers could be used to produce eco-friendly, biodegradable plastics.
Scientists have described a key step toward using the billions of pounds of waste chicken feathers produced each year to make one of the more important kinds of plastic.
One major goal is to use agricultural waste and other renewable resources to make bioplastics that have an additional advantage of being biodegradable once discarded into the environment.
Chicken feathers are an excellent prospect, Yang explained, because they are inexpensive and abundant.
Yang, an authority on biomaterials and biofibers in the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln explained that chicken feathers are made mainly of keratin, a tough protein also found in hair, hoofs, horns, and wool that can lend strength and durability to plastics.
To develop the new water-resistant thermoplastic, Yang and colleagues processed chicken feathers with chemicals, including methyl acrylate, a colorless liquid found in nail polish that undergoes polymerization — that's the process used in producing plastics in which molecules link together one by one into huge chains.
This process resulted in films of what Yang's group terms "feather-g-poly(methyl acrylate)" plastic. It had excellent properties as a thermoplastic, was substantially stronger and more resistant to tearing than plastics made from soy protein or starch, and as a first among chicken-feather plastics had good resistance to water.
The new method was presented at the 241st National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society.