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Plucky startup makes plastics from feathers

If you've ever wondered what they do with all those feathers they pluck from all those chickens that go into Americans' diets each day, wonder no more! Who says plastic isn't fantastic?

A press release came across my desk the other day announcing a new partnership between Great Lakes Die Cast (Muskegon, MI) and Eastern BioPlastics LLC (Mt. Crawford, VA). The two companies have joined forces to commercialize bio-based injection molded plastics targeting applications in the global office furniture and automotive markets.

Great Lakes Die Cast (GLDC) is providing its knowledge and experience in plastic injection molding as well as market access to customers in the office furniture and automotive markets, according to Dan Gillig, director of marketing and business development at GLDC. And Eastern BioPlastics (EBP) will provide . . . well, the chicken feathers.

Yep, you read that right - chicken feathers. The bio-based resin EBP Emerald is a fiber-reinforced composite made up of feather fibers with a polymer matrix produced by Eastern BioPlastics. According to the USDA, roughly 4-5 billion lb of chicken feather waste is generated each year in the U.S. alone. That's a lot of chickens!

I remember when I was a kid growing up in Northern Kentucky, my grandmother raised chickens, and she'd save the feathers from the chickens she'd kill for Sunday dinner, and when she had enough she'd make pillows and feather mattresses. Boy, were those ever comfortable!

However, it seems that chicken feathers have other advantages. The fiber biomaterial derived from chicken feathers contain keratin protein also found in fingernails, hair, and horns (watch out, all you cows out there!), which help give these composites physical properties comparable to traditional polyolefins, according to the press release.

EBP developed and built the equipment needed and the methods of integrating feather fibers into plastic materials. EBP also developed a continuous, efficient patented method of cleaning and processing the chicken feathers into blended resin pellets suitable for plastic injection molding.

The companies got help from Michigan State University's Product Center for Agriculture and Natural Resources. Ruben Derderian, Associate Director Bioeconomy with the Center and former office furniture executive provided direction and feedback during the development process. "What is encouraging to us about EBP Emerald is the magnitude of bio-based content," said Derderian. "GLDC has demonstrated the ability to manufacture injection molded parts with the EBP resin having bio-based content as high as 40%. This is impressive when other leading sustainable resins have only been able to achieve 20-25% bio-based content."

GLDC and EBP have also been working with leading office furniture OEMs and have recently initiated dialogue with major automotive OEMs. Both are hopeful that chicken feathers in the form of fiber-reinforced composites will find their way into office furniture and automobiles soon, according to the release.

I'm sure my grandmother would be "green" with envy at this new development. But I think back on those pillows and mattresses she'd make by stuffing all those feathers into the ticking, and somehow injection molded office furniture just doesn't equate to Grandma's comfy feather bed. 

Virginia Company Using Feathers To Make Biodegradable Plastic Products: MyFoxDC.com

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