Growing Interest in Plastics from Feathers

GLOBAL - Processors are seeing the potential for feather-based plastics.
calendar icon 13 August 2010
clock icon 3 minute read

Processors from around the world are starting to take an interest in keratin resin, derived from poultry feathers, according to Modern Plastics Worldwide. Less dense than polyolefins, with a modulus of about 3-5 GPa and stress-to-break of 200-500 MPa, the material, a thermoplastic and biodegradable, can be moulded neat or blended with standard thermoplastics to create 'green' compounds.

There have been attempts before to derive plastic from poultry feathers, but officials at Eastern Bioplastics (Mt. Crawford, Virgniai, US), located in the country's largest poultry farming area, believe they have a leg up on the competition.

"Our advantage is that we've developed a continuous process, using less energy (than others) and keeping it nearly fully automated," from feathers coming in one end of the plant to pellets being bagged on the other, explained Sonny Meyerhoeffer, the company's founder and principal, in an interview. Feather quills and fibres contain keratin, a material that can be processed much like standard thermoplastics. Feathers are cleaned, chopped and extruded into strands that then are cut into granules. The granulate does not smell. Although naturally whitish/brown in colour, the keratin can be coloured easily, he added.

Mr Meyerhoeffer comes to the business with a broad business background. Before starting Eastern Bioplastics, he led the founding of a co-op that took over a turkey processing plant slated with closure. The co-op flourished, jobs and livelihoods were saved, and so, about three years ago, he began to seek a new challenge, settling on commercialisation of keratin resins. Mutual acquaintances put him in touch with Justin Barone, an associate professor at VA Tech. (Blacksburg, Virginia), who was a researcher on the USDA Agricultural Research Service team that discovered these polymers could be processed into plastics. Mr Barone now is the R&D leader of the young company and also a stakeholder in it.

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