Chickens are used for many things around the globe, but their main purpose has always been as a food source. Whether it’s for their meat, their eggs, or their strange helpfulness in the garden, these farmyard birds have been depended on for a long time.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons. By: Fir0002.

However, when it comes to the poultry industry, there is one oversight people probably make: the feathers. Did you know that nearly 6 billion pounds of chicken feathers are generated in the US per year? Yeah, that’s a crazy amount of feathers and they don’t really have much use once they’ve been removed from the chicken (unless you are really creative). So, in most cases, they are probably either sent to a landfill, burned, used as low-grade animal meal, or destroyed in some other fashion; at least, until now.

A team of scientists (headed by Professor Manoranjan ‘Mano’ Misra) of the University of Nevada discovered some rather interesting things about chicken feathers; things that could develop a most interesting way of creating biodiesel fuel. It all starts with chicken feather meal.

Chicken feather meal contains processed feathers, blood and innards—gross, right? This stuff is processed with steam at high temperatures, can be used as animal feed and fertilizer, and it contains a high amount of nitrogen and protein. However, it’s the 12% fat content of the meal that the researchers were particularly interested in.

By extracting this fat from the meal using boiling water, the researchers are able to process it into biodiesel; plus, the removal of the fat also turns the meal into a higher-grade animal feed and a better source for fertilizer. If you were to take into account the amount of chicken feather meal generated every year, it could mean the development of 153 million gallons of biodiesel in the US or 593 million gallons worldwide, per year.

Now, the really intriguing thing is others have been finding new uses for chicken feathers, too. One group of scientists at the University of Delaware is using chicken feathers to store hydrogen fuel. In addition to the fuel storage, they are also working on ways to turn those chicken feather fibers into other products, including bio-based circuit boards and hurricane-resistant roofing.

You can find out more about their studies here.

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