Clean electricity with chicken feathers

If possible. Researchers from ETH Zurich and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University (NTU) demonstrated this. They wanted to make fuel cells that were more cost-effective and sustainable. Thus they developed clean electricity with chicken feathers.

The food industry generates enormous amounts of waste and byproducts, including from poultry production. About 40 million tons of chicken feathers are incinerated each year. This not only releases large amounts of CO2. It also produces toxic gases such as sulfur dioxide.

Clean electricity can now be generated with chicken feathers.
Clean electricity can now be generated with chicken feathers.

Clean environment

The research extracts the keratin protein from feathers and converts it into ultrafine fibers known as amyloid fibrils. They are used in the membrane of a fuel cell. They generate CO2-free electricity from hydrogen and oxygen, releasing only heat and water. They could play an important role as a sustainable energy source in the future. At the heart of each fuel cell is a semipermeable membrane. It allows protons to pass but blocks electrons, thus producing an electric current.

In conventional fuel cells, they use highly toxic chemicals, or “permanent chemicals.” This, on the other hand, is mainly composed of biological keratin. It is environmentally friendly and available in large quantities. Chicken feathers contain 90 percent keratin. It is three times cheaper than conventional membranes.

The keratin in the bird's feathers is the key.
The keratin in the bird’s feathers is the key.

Close cycles

“I have dedicated several years to researching renewable energy systems,” says Raffaele Mezzenga in a statement. He is professor of food and soft materials at ETH Zurich. «Our latest development closes a cycle. We take a substance that releases CO2 and toxic gases when burned and use it in a different environment. We reduce the general cycle of the carbon footprint,” says Mezzenga.

The researchers’ next step will be to investigate how stable and durable their keratin membrane is and improve it if necessary. The research team has already filed a joint patent for the membrane. They are looking for investors or companies to continue developing the technology and bringing it to the market. Generating clean electricity from chicken feathers is sure to attract the attention of investors around the world.

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