Clothes made from rice straw or chicken feathers could soon be fashionably de rigueur according to American researchers.


Scientists at the University of Nebraska Lincoln are processing agricultural waste products into conventional-looking fabrics in a bid to reduce the use of petroleum-based synthetic fibres.


Their feather-based fabric will resemble wool, while the rice straw fabric will look and feel more like linen or cotton, according findings presented at the national meeting of the American Chemical Society.


Dr Yiqi Yang, Professor of textile science at the University of Nebraska said: "With millions of tons of chicken feathers and rice straw available worldwide each year, these agricultural wastes represent an abundant, cheap and renewable alternative to petroleum-based synthetic fibres.


And unlike petroleum-based fibres, these agro-fibres are biodegradable. The development could be a boon to the nation's [US] rice and chicken farmers."


Rice straw consists of the stems of the rice plant that are left over after rice grains are harvested. Like cotton and linen, rice straw is composed mostly of cellulose.


Chicken feathers are composed mostly of keratin, the same type of protein found in wool, but Dr Yang said chicken feathers could produce fabrics with a lighter weight, better shock absorption and superior insulation than woollens.


By Monica Dobie.