Yiqi Yang, an authority on biofibers and biomaterials at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln’s Institute of Agriculture & Natural Resources, has reported about a new process that uses chicken feathers as raw materials for the production of thermoplastics at the American Chemical Society’s 241st National Meeting & Exposition.
According to Yang, thermoplastics developed by other processes using chicken feathers had poor water resistance whereas thermoplastics produced by the new method have exhibited strong water resistance and mechanical properties. Yang and his colleagues planned to use agricultural wastes as raw materials to substitute petroleum-based plastic products. They opted for chicken feathers, which are cheaper and available abundantly.
Chicken feathers can be used to produce low-grade animal feed. However, they may spread infections in the animals. Mainly, the chicken feathers are disposed as waste into the landfills. Yang said that keratin, a strong protein found in wool, horns and hair, can give durability and robustness to plastics. He further said that feather films exhibit better mechanical characteristics than bio-based products made of plant proteins or modified starch.
The innovative process involves processing of chicken feathers with chemicals such as methyl acrylate, a clear liquid used in nail polish that goes through polymerization. The resulting polymerized product produced by the Yang team is called as ‘feather-g-poly(methyl acrylate)’ plastic. The new plastic material has demonstrated better tearing resistance than starch or soy protein-based plastics. Its water resistance is better than chicken-feather plastics produced by other methods.