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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


item Barone, Justin
item Schmidt, Walter

Submitted to: BARC Poster Day
Publication Type: Abstract Only
Publication Acceptance Date: 4/29/2004
Publication Date: 4/29/2004
Citation: Barone, J.R., Schmidt, W.F. 2004. Novel keratin polymer blends made from poultry feather biomass. BARC Poster Day. April 29, 2004. Abstract 31.

Interpretive Summary:

Technical Abstract: On-going research at the USDA to find uses for the over 5 billion pounds of poultry feather waste generated in the U.S. has resulted in a process to create keratin polymer blends. Keratin is a unique protein in that it contains the amino acid cysteine (C), which has the ability to form inter-molecular bonds, known as cross-links, with other cysteine molecules. The cross-links provide elasticity, which is the origin of the toughness of keratins. Further analysis of the amino acid sequence of feather keratin shows that the amount of the 'OH containing amino acids serine (S), threonine (T), and tyrosine (Y) is high relative to the C content, resulting in a "plasticizer efficiency" of PE=(S+T+Y)/C=3. The PE value shows the ratio of mobile to immobile sites in the keratin molecule. A process developed in this laboratory exploits this unique feature of feather keratin to make polymer blends that can have a range of properties depending on the mole percentage and molecular weight of the second phase added. Previously, it was thought that keratin was only processable after elimination of the cross-links. The new process relies on the PE ratio to show that feather keratin can be thermally processed into blends just like any other polymer molecule. This discovery has opened up an enormous market opportunity to develop biodegradable, environmentally-friendly materials previously made from petroleum-derived materials.

Last Modified: 08/15/2017
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