Chicken feathers that were processed with chemicals like methyl acrylate created a thermoplastic that was stable and strong, even when wet

Yiqi Yang, Ph.D., study leader and an authority on biomaterials and biofibers in the Institute of Agriculture & Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, and a team of researchers, have created a new technique that utilizes waste chicken feathers in order to produce thermoplastics that can perform even when wet.

Thermoplastics are polyethylene, nylon, polyvinyl chloride and polystyrene, just to name a few. They are one of the most important groups of plastics, and are used to make industrial and consumer products like car bumpers and toothbrush bristles.

Now, Yang and his team have developed a technique for creating thermoplastics that makes use of the billions of pounds of waste chicken feathers produced annually. The purpose of using chicken feathers is to replace oil and natural gas, which are two main ingredients in making thermoplastics. There are worries surrounding petroleum prices and sustainability, which has motivated scientists to search for alternative resources that are preferably biodegradable. With chicken feathers, they are cheap and abundant, with over 3 billion pounds of waste feathers incinerated or found in landfills annually.  

"Others have tried to develop thermoplastics from feathers," said Yang. "But none of them perform well when wet. Using this technique, we believe we're the first to demonstrate that we can make chicken-feather-based thermoplastics stable in water while still maintaining mechanical properties."

The new technique developed by Yang and his colleagues utilized chicken feathers that were processed with chemicals like methyl acrylate, which is found in nail polish. This resulted in a film of "feather-g-poly(methyl acrylate)" plastic. According to Yang, this technique produced a thermoplastic that was stable and strong, even when wet. It was also more tear-resistant. 

"We are trying to develop plastics from renewable resources to replace those derived from petroleum products," said Yang. "Utilizing current wastes as alternative sources for materials is one of the best approaches toward a more sustainable and more environmentally responsible society."

This study was announced at the 241st National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.

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