Researcher examines polymers created with poultry feathers

Mar 29, 2007

Biodegradable polymers created from poultry feathers may add value to the poultry industry and help solve the growing environmental problem of plastic waste.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, more than 29 million tons of non-biodegradable plastic waste ends up in landfills each year. Justin Barone, associate professor of biological systems engineering at Virginia Tech, is investigating ways to create biodegradable plastics from agricultural byproducts such as poultry feathers and eggs that would be comparable to petroleum-based plastics. He presented the research on March 29 at the 233rd American Chemical Society National Meeting in Chicago, Ill.

"Twelve percent of all plastic packaging ends up in landfills because only a fraction is recycled," said Barone. "Once in the landfill, it doesn't biodegrade. The challenge is how can we create a simpler plastic bag or bottle that will biodegrade?"

According to Barone, the technology to create biodegradable plastics from biomass, such as corn and soybeans, has been around for more than 70 years. However the recent push to increase energy production from these feedstocks has increased the value of these agricultural commodities, making products made from them more expensive.

Barone has turned his focus to the agricultural waste stream and is concentrating on developing ways to use under-utilized byproducts or agricultural waste, such as poultry feathers or eggs that don't pass inspection. These agricultural wastes currently find uses in low-value animal feed or are simply disposed. Both come at a cost to the poultry industry that is passed onto consumers.

The challenge in developing biodegradable plastics is creating a product as good as, if not better than, its petroleum counterpart, explains Barone. "The industry is looking for a versatile product that can be used for multiple markets."

Plastics made from biomass are made just like petroleum-based plastics. They are cheaper to manufacture and meet or exceed most properties except for water resistance and longevity. Meeting these performance requirements is a challenge, Barone explains.

Barone is taking his lead from nature to find potential solutions to these performance requirements. He is investigating the properties of polymers created from poultry feather keratin. The protein, keratin, is a major component of hair, nails, and feathers and makes them hard and strong.

Barone has found that altering the amino acid structure of keratin can improve the strength and longevity of the polymer. In addition, the viscosity can be improved with reducing agents such as sodium sulfite and lubricants such as poultry fat. The solid-state properties can also be modified using divalent transition metal ions to affect stiffness and smell. These will help the keratin polymer be processed faster, be more aesthetically pleasing, and become water resistant and stronger for increased longevity.

Source: Virginia Tech

Explore further: Researchers create designer 'barrel' proteins

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Comcast wins more Internet customers, ad sales up

34 minutes ago

Comcast Corp.'s third-quarter net income jumped 50 percent in the third quarter, helped by a one-time tax settlement, growth in Internet subscribers and fewer defectors from its cable service.

Helping sweet cherries survive the long haul

39 minutes ago

A new study says that cherry producers need to understand new intricacies of the production-harvest-marketing continuum in order to successfully move sweet cherries from growers to end consumers. For example, the Canadian ...

Christian Bale to play Apple's Steve Jobs

54 minutes ago

Oscar-winner Christian Bale—best known for his star turn as Batman in the blockbuster "Dark Knight" films—will play Apple co-founder Steve Jobs in an upcoming biopic.

Netflix to stream new online TV series, 'Bloodline'

55 minutes ago

Fresh from commercial and critical success with hit shows "House of Cards" and "Orange is the New Black," Netflix on Thursday announced a new online series, "Bloodline," set for release in March.

YEATS protein potential therapeutic target for cancer

55 minutes ago

Federal Express and UPS are no match for the human body when it comes to distribution. There exists in cancer biology an impressive packaging and delivery system that influences whether your body will develop cancer or not.

Recommended for you

Researchers create designer 'barrel' proteins

16 hours ago

Proteins are long linear molecules that fold up to form well-defined 3D shapes. These 3D molecular architectures are essential for biological functions such as the elasticity of skin, the digestion of food, ...

World's fastest manufacture of battery electrodes

23 hours ago

New world record: Scientists at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) increased the manufacturing speed of electrode foils coated batch-wise by a factor of three – to 100 meters per minute. This was ...

User comments : 0