Car Parts from Chickens; April 2000; Scientific American Magazine; by Martindale; 1 Page(s)
Nearly a decade ago poultryprocessing plants around the nation asked researchers at the Department of Agriculture to solve a big environmental problem: find a more efficient way to dispose of the four billion pounds of chicken feathers produced annually in the U.S. What they were expecting was a method by which the feathers could be made more biodegradable after burial. But Walter Schmidt, a chemist at the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in Beltsville, Md., went a step further to develop a recycling technology that will soon bring feathers into everyday life disguised as plastic and paper products.
Currently poultry farmers mix water with leftover feathers in large pressure cookers to make low-grade feedstuff for chickens and cattle-a venture that is generally not profitable. But converting feathers into value-added products required more than just a little steam. Schmidt and his colleagues developed an efficient mechanical method to separate the more valuable barb fibers (plumage) from the less useful central chaff, or quill. Though softer, the keratin fibers in the barbs are stronger and less brittle than those in the quill and therefore have a much broader range of applications.