Friday, October 23rd, 2009

Feathers: From Pillow Stuffing to Plastic

Recently I had a very interesting discussion with a staff member from the American Nursery and Landscaping Association’s Horticultural Research Institute (HRI). He and I talked about developing biodegradable plastics for the nursery and landscape industry from keratin protein

If you haven’t heard of keratin before, it persists in hair and feathers (features that protect the animal), hooves (a feature that bears the animal’s load) and horns (a feature that both protects and supports the animal) because it is tough, strong and lightweight. 

HRI is leading efforts on very interesting research to turn chicken feathers to plastics.  Why you ask? Because there is more than 5 billion pounds of feather waste generated by the U.S. poultry industry each year.  The objective of the project is to use the feather keratin fiber and quill in added-value products.

HRI has partnered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) – Agricultural Research Service (ARS) to create a process to convert the feather keratin into tough, lightweight polymers or plastics that can be extruded or molded just like any other plastic product. The focus of this activity is to make commercial products for the nursery, landscape and floriculture industry including biodegradable pots, trays, greenhouse films, turf mesh netting and related products.

So far, through this project HRI and ARS have successfully extruded and pelletized various keratin formulations, have injection molded prototype nursery pots, began composting research trials to meet appropriate ASTM standards and are on their way to turn this project into commercial product that we, as consumers, can buy off the store shelf. 

I think this project is a very cool opportunity for the plastics industry.  Read more about it here. Who knew that feathers could be more than pillow stuffing?

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