Study: Chicken feathers could generate cleaner energy

Researchers converted keratin into a semi-permeable membrane for use in fuel cells.

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Keratin, a component of chicken feathers, could be repurposed to create a more environmentally friendly and cost-effective energy source, according to new study published in the journal, Applied Materials & Interfaces.

The research finds a new use for the chicken processing byproduct, typically converted into low-nutritional value animal feed or incinerated. With more than two billion pounds of feathers produced annually, this generates a lot of waste. 

Finding a new use for this byproduct could help reduce the environmental impact of poultry processing, improving the sustainability outlook of the entire industry..

Better fuel cells

Researchers at ETH Zurich and Nanyang Technological University Singapore (NTU) converted keratin from chicken feathers into ultra-fine fibers known as amyloid fibrils for use in fuel cell membranes.

Advances in research mean that fuel cells could one day play an important role as a more sustainable energy source for homes and everyday use. The semi-permeable membrane is a critical component of the fuel cell because is where the electric current is generated.

Using keratin in the membrane of fuel cells is cheaper, easier and more environmentally friendly than the chemicals that have traditionally been used, the researchers noted.

“Our latest development closes a cycle: we’re taking a substance that releases CO2 and toxic gases when burned and used it in a different setting: with our new technology it not only replaces toxic substances, but also prevents the release of CO2, decreasing the overall carbon footprint cycle,” said Raffaele Mezzenga, professor of Food and Soft Materials at ETH Zurich.

The researchers plan to further investigate the stability and durability of the new keratin membrane and is searching for a commercial partner to bring the technology to market. 

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