Justin Barone, associate professor of biological systems engineering at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburgh/ USA, is investigating ways to create biodegradable plastics from agricultural byproducts such as poultry feathers and eggs that would be comparable to petroleum-based plastics. Biodegradable polymers created from such byproducts may add value to the poultry industry and help solve the growing environmental problem of plastic waste. Barone presented his research findings at the 233rd national meeting of the American Chemical Society in Chicago, Ill. in March. (…)
Barone is concentrating on developing ways to use under-utilized byproducts or agricultural waste, such as poultry feathers or eggs that don’t pass inspection. These agricultural wastes currently find uses in low-value animal feed or are simply disposed. Both come at a cost to the poultry industry that is passed onto consumers. The challenge in developing biodegradable plastics is creating a product as good as, if not better than, its petroleum counterpart, explains Barone. (…)
Barone is investigating the properties of polymers created from poultry feather keratin. The protein, keratin, is a major component of hair, nails, and feathers and makes them hard and strong. Barone has found that altering the amino acid structure of keratin can improve the strength and longevity of the polymer. In addition, the viscosity can be improved with reducing agents such as sodium sulfite and lubricants such as poultry fat. The solid-state properties can also be modified using divalent transition metal ions to affect stiffness and smell. These will help the keratin polymer be processed faster, be more aesthetically pleasing, and become water resistant and stronger for increased longevity.
Barone’s current research is funded by the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association.
The press release “Researcher examines polymers created with poultry feathers” can be downloaded here (PDF-document).
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Source: Virginia Tech, press release, 2007-04-03