Research scientists spin feathers into gold
Feather fiber technology receives a "World's Best" award

May 27, 2004, Sharon Durham (ARS): A technology developed by Agricultural Research Service scientists to turn chicken feathers into industrial fiber recently received a third-place award at the "World's Best Technologies 2004" conference in Arlington, Texas. The 400 conference participants selected the ARS technology for the award from among 70 technologies displayed at the conference.

ARS research chemist Walter Schmidt and research polymer scientist Justin Barone discovered that feathers can be added to plastic used in car parts such as dashboards to strengthen them while reducing their weight. Schmidt and Barone, based at ARS' Environmental Quality Laboratory in Beltsville, Md., also found that feather fiber can be combined with wood pulp to make filter paper, decorative paper and other products.

Processed chicken feather fiber, because of its super-fine size and shape, may be used for filtration. Wood pulp filters have a width of 10-20 microns, compared to 5 microns for filters made from feather fiber. That means filters made from feather fibers will have a finer mesh, resulting in smaller pores for trapping more minute airborne particles.

The feather-fiber technology has been patented and licensed. Featherfiber Corp. of Nixa, Mo., has built the first fully operational pilot plant to convert feathers into feather fiber and keratin quill. Featherfiber is marketing the fiber to be used in lightweight, sound-deadening composite materials for use in office cubicles, cars and sleeping compartments of tractor trailers.

A large-scale facility, now in the design phase, is projected to be built by Featherfiber Corp. in either southwest Missouri or Maryland's eastern shore. When complete, the plant will produce about five tons of feather fiber per hour, up from the pilot plant production of 200 pounds per hour.

The "World's Best Technology 2004" awards were sponsored by the Federal Laboratory Consortium for Technology Transfer and the National Association of Seed and Venture Funds.

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