The European poultry industry throws away more than three million tonnes of feathers from poultry slaughterhouses each year. It is an important keratin source that ends in landfills or is incinerated, from which we could obtain different high added-value products, such as fertilizers, bioplastics, biocomposites, additives for biodegradable packages and coatings for the fabrics industry.
AIMPLAS, the Plastics Technology Centre, participates in the European project KARMA 2020, which aims at developing innovative processes to extract the keratin from the poultry litter. For that purpose, under the coordination of CIDETEC and with the participation of a total of 16 partners from ten different countries, the research works begin now in order to design this innovative valorization process. In particular, after having obtained litter, the decontamination will be performed to eliminate any pathogenic substance that may be a risk for health of people handling it at the different phases. Then, the feathers are treated at nano and micro scale, so the keratin’s processability by means of different processes is achieved.
Once keratin is obtained from feathers, there are many possibilities of application. For instance, these particles can be incorporated to the biopolymers obtained from renewable resources to produce fully recyclable and biodegradable packages with which package food, such as those elaborated by the poultry industry itself. In other words, a bird can be packed with its own feathers.
The biocomposites manufacturing is another application field of keratin coming from poultry feathers, since they can be incorporated as fibres and copolymer in the composite’s matrix.
Another application of the keratin obtained from feathers is its incorporation in fertilizers manufacturing. Keratin is formed by amino acids, the structure of which have a high content of nitrogen, which is the main component of fertilizers used in agriculture.
The development of technical textiles could also benefit from the incorporation of a component like keratin, in particular as a coating, in form of particles that provide a fire-retardant effect, as well as breathability properties, since keratin is able to transport water vapour through the coating.
This project has been funded by the EU research and innovation programme Horizon 2020, grant agreement no 727619.