Scientists find way to turn chicken feathers into clean energy

Graphical abstract. Credit: ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces (2023).

Every year, a lot of chicken feathers are just thrown away or burned. This burning can harm our environment by releasing bad gases.

But what if we told you that these unwanted feathers could help us create clean energy?

Yes, that’s right! Scientists have discovered a new way to make use of these feathers for producing electricity.

Researchers from two universities, ETH Zurich and NTU Singapore, have come up with an amazing idea.

They take these feathers and get out a protein called keratin from them. Keratin is then changed into tiny fibers.

And here’s the coolest part: these fibers can be used in devices called fuel cells to generate electricity.

You might wonder, what’s a fuel cell? A fuel cell is a device that creates electricity using hydrogen and oxygen.

When it works, it only releases heat and water, making it very eco-friendly. The heart of this device is a special layer, called a membrane, which helps in making the electricity.

Normally, the membranes in these fuel cells are made using harmful chemicals. But the new method using chicken feathers is much better for the environment.

Plus, because chicken feathers are mainly made of keratin (about 90%), there are plenty of them to use. This new kind of membrane is even cheaper to make!

Raffaele Mezzenga, a professor who has been part of this research, says that he has been trying to find ways to use food waste in green energy for a long time.

With this new discovery, he feels they’ve hit a jackpot. Instead of burning the feathers and harming the environment, they are now using them to reduce harmful emissions and make electricity. It’s like turning something unwanted into gold!

However, there’s still a challenge to face. While hydrogen, which is used in fuel cells, is found a lot in space, it’s not that common on Earth in its pure form.

To get hydrogen, we need to use energy to break water into oxygen and hydrogen. This process is called electrolysis.

For electrolysis to work well, pure water isn’t enough. Usually, scientists have to add acids to make it work. But guess what?

The new chicken feather membrane can help here too! Because it can allow tiny particles to move between two points, it can help in breaking water more efficiently, even if it’s pure.

The researchers are still checking how long their new membrane can last and are trying to make it even better. But one thing is clear: the next time you see chicken feathers, think of them as a hidden treasure that can light up our world!

So, to sum it up: scientists have found a way to use chicken feathers to make clean electricity. This not only reduces waste but also helps our environment. What a win-win!

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Source: ETH Zurich.