Chicken feathers, as unlikely as it seems, have turned out to be a wonderfully useful material. Among other things, researchers have found they make for great circuit boards and cheap, efficient storage tanks for hydrogen. Now it turns out they could also be used to create biodegradable, petroleum-free plastics.
Researchers at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln say that the protein keratin in chicken feathers, which is strong and durable, as well as the fact that so many of them end up as unused waste, is what makes them such an appealing material. When making the plastic, the scientists heat-treated the feathers to clean them and then pulverized them into a fine powder. They then added chemicals that made the keratin molecules join together into long chains and create a polymer.
The resulting plastic was stronger than other bioplastics made of soy beans or starch and it stood up to water. The material is a thermoplastic which means that heat can be used to mold it into various products and can be melted and remolded many times. It could be used for plastic plates and cups or even furniture and when those things are no longer usable, the plastic is biodegradable.