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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Title: Microcrystalline Keratin from Feathers to Composite Products

Author
item Schmidt, Walter

Submitted to: Materials Research Society Proceedings
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: November 26, 2001
Publication Date: N/A

Interpretive Summary: Keratin fiber from feathers(US production: 2 billion kg annually) is an abundant renewable source for composite products. A patented process was developed by five ARS scientists to convert feathers into fiber. Three companies have a license to produce the fiber. One or more pilot plant making feather fiber are already on-line. Keratins properties make it ideal lfor developing a variety of composites. The structural form of keratin in feathers must be lightweight as well as strong, or geese would not be able fly. Composite formulations can be made into a lighter-weight, stronger, and more durable end-product by preserving the internal order of feather fiber. Feather fiber's small (5 microns)diameter and its low compressibility, make it an ideal substrate for adsorbing chemical substances and particulates from air or solution. Compressibility in filters blocks flow and lowers the amount of foreign material they can hold. The surface's selectivity for specific chemical structures, in principle, can be enhanced by modifying the fiber surface while keeping its porosity and low compressibility intact. To ensure uniform end product porosity, feather fiber filters require a binder to maintain optimum spacing between neighboring fibers. Prototype end products have been formulated including: high volume flow air filters, breathable non-woven fabric, felt-like clothing insulation, and naturally soft cushions. The quantities of feather fiber now available enable R & D production process and end-product formulation optimizations.

Technical Abstract: Molecular order and morphological order are two characteristics of feather fiber that make it unique. The fiber is highly microcrystalline and is very durable, i.e., resistant to both mechanical and thermal stress. Feather structure at the microscopic level is a complicated mixture of straight and branched fibers held together by a central fiber to form specific macroscopic structures. The proper design of processes to incorporate feathers into composite products 1) preserves the fiber's molecular properties and 2) alters its micro-/macroscopic morphology to conform to existing composite process requirements.

Last Modified: 9/23/2014
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