The squawk at yesterday’s Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference in Maryland is all about what University of Delaware scientists have discovered about chicken feathers:
Each year, the agricultural industry must dispose of billions of pounds of chicken feathers. Richard Wool, a chemical engineer at the University of Delaware, says when feathers are heated, they develop nano-sized caverns in which hydrogen can be stored. - NPR
The chicken feather method of storage could solve two big problems with hydrogen when used as a mobile energy source; difficulty and cost. Researchers say that when heated, the keratin protein in chicken feathers become very strong and porous. As a result, they can absorb hydrogen as well or better than other materials. And let’s not forget, chicken feathers are cheap.
“Carbonized chicken feather fibers have the potential to dramatically improve upon existing methods of hydrogen storage and perhaps pave the way for the practical development of a truly hydrogen-based energy economy,” says Richard P. Wool, Ph.D., professor of chemical engineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources program at the University of Delaware in Newark. – Renewable Energy World
Wool and his ACRES program colleagues are more than a little familiar with chicken feathers. In fact, in 2002, he filed a patent to use chicken feathers to replace silicon in computer chips. And in 2007, after seeing a composite that he and his students made from soybeans and chicken feathers at the state fair, Tyson Chicken gave him 2 billion pounds of chicken feathers to go and experiment.
Professor Wool used the material to design a circuit board he said is a lighter, stronger, cheaper product with high-speed electronic properties. In short, the feathers allow extra air flow and do not expand like plastic when heated, so the hotter temperatures that come with higher speeds are less problematic. – New York Times
His group has also been studying using chicken feather fibers for hurricane-resistant roofing and lightweight car parts. They are also looking at olive oil to create rubber, paint and biocompatible adhesives that work like skin. Add a little garlic and salt to their research subjects and you might also have dinner.
In the case of hydrogen storage, Wool says that using chicken feathers would add about $200 to the cost of a car with a 20 gallon fuel tank, as opposed to metal hydrides, which add $30,000 to the cost or carbon nanotubes which add $5.5 million to the cost.
The big issues with hydrogen cars right now are affordability and range:
“The problem with hydrogen as a gas or liquid is its density is too low,” Wool says. “Using currently available technology, if you had a 20-gallon tank and filled it with hydrogen at typical room temperature and pressure, you could drive about a mile. When we started we didn’t know how well carbonized chicken feathers would work for hydrogen storage, but we certainly suspected we could do a lot better than that.” – Renewable Energy World
Whether PETA will agree that chicken feathers are a reasonable or renewable resource is a different question. For now, Wool and his colleagues are flying high on the idea of using this agricultural waste product to solve a clean energy problem.
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