Carbonized Chicken Feathers

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Carbonized chicken feathers (heated or "baked" in the absence of oxygen) appear to have some very interesting structural properties, similar to carbon nanotubes. However, carbon nanotubes are much more expensive and consume large amounts of energy during production (favoring large-scale, capital-intensive modes of production). In contrast, chicken feathers are a byproduct of the poultry industry with disposal costs and currently little use. A publication in 2009 showed that carbonized chicken feathers can store large amounts of hydrogen and hence may be useful for hydrogen-powered vehicles (source). But the more interesting application may be the mechanical strength of these fibers. It may be possible to embed them in a thermoplastic resin and weave very thin strands of these composites into super-strong yet dirt-cheap fibers and fabrics. The abstract below has some details on the carbonization process.

Relevant Abstract

found here: Friday, 29 June 2007 - 10:10 AM New York Room (Capital Hilton Hotel) 209 Carbon microtubes from chicken feathers by Melissa E. N. Miller, University of Delaware, Newark, DE and Richard P. Wool, University of Delaware, Newark, DE.

In the United States alone, 5 billion pounds of poultry feathers are generated annually and must be properly disposed. This creates land-fill disposal and potential health problems. This research uses this waste as a valuable feedstock for new, high-performance, bio-based materials. Containing 47.83% carbon, chicken feathers are hollow and strong in nature due to the 91% keratin content. This study takes the use of chicken feathers one step further, by carbonizing them to create strong, inexpensive, hollow fibers. Current research shows that with the carbonization method of heating the chicken feathers at 225 °C for 26 hours, followed by 2 hours at 450 °C in a nitrogen environment, results in carbonized fibers which maintain their hollow structure. These fibers are added to a soybean oil-based resin to make biocomposites. We are seeing a 236% increase in the composite storage modulus at 35 °C, from 0.639 GPa with 0% fiber to 2.145 GPa with 3.45 wt% fiber. The extracted fiber modulus is on the order of 142 GPa, comparable to low/medium modulus carbon fiber. Density gradient experiments show a density in the range of 1.325–1.43 g/cm3. The aspect ratio is ~102. Wide-angle X-ray scattering shows an interplanar spacing (d002) of 4.4 Å in the raw chicken feathers, and a structural change showing 3.36 Å for carbonized chicken feathers, similar to 3.43 Å found in commercial carbon fiber. The potential applications range from use in the aerospace industry to airbags, catalysts, ligament repairs, batteries, hydrogen storage, and fuel cells. This project was supported by the National Research Initiative of the USDA Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Service, grant number 2005-35504-16137.

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