Skip to main content

By Biocat

Jordi Aymerich, Mechanical Technical Engineering student at the Terrassa School of Engineering, Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC), has been recognized as having the best graduating project in all of Catalonia for the 2010-2011 school year by the Association of Technical Industrial Engineers of Barcelona. Aymerich, under the guidance of professors Núria Garrido and Fernando Carrillo, has carried out laboratory experiments to find new ways to use chicken feathers for manufacturing biocomposite materials by mixing this biowaste with biodegradable plastic, polylactic acid (PLA).

This research, carried out under the framework of the Complumas project funded by the Spanish Ministry of the Economy and Competitiveness, provides a way to reuse the huge amount of waste generated every day in chicken slaughterhouses.

Keratin and its stabilization, key to process

Chicken feathers are mainly made up of a protein called keratin, along with some impurities. Keratin is known for being low-density and having good thermal and acoustic isolation properties, making it a good option for developing industrial materials. In order to take advantage of the keratin, all impurities must first be extracted. To do this, Aymerich pre-treated the feathers with a stabilizing steam bath. Afterwards, he crushed the feathers and mixed them with PLA.

Feathers make up 25% of the composite

The conclusions of his work show that under optimum manufacturing conditions it is possible to obtain composite materials made up of 25% feathers and 75% PLA, and that these materials can be used to develop industrial applications, for example those related to the automotive, construction and packaging sectors. Therefore, Aymerich has shown that reusing feathers in biocomposites is a viable way to recycle part of the 5 millions tons of this waste, which is difficult to manage and normally ends up in large-scale crematoriums, generated each year in the poultry industry.

Complumas project

The Complumas project, coordinated by professor Fernando Carrillo, includes other researchers and students from the UPC campus in Terrassa (Barcelona). These researchers are now evaluating the environmental impact of this new material, from creation as a raw material through manufacturing, use and disposal of the end product. This analysis will allow them to give an objective view of whether or not it is recommendable, feasible and sustainable to manufacture the PLA/chicken-feather composite. This means that, in addition to technical and usability criteria, the design and concept of this new material also takes into account environmental, social and economic factors.

Sign up for our newsletters

Stay up-to-date on the latest news, events and trends in the BioRegion.