• Researchers in the US are working to convert poultry feathers and waste garments into commercially viable textiles.
  • The University of Nebraska–Lincoln project recently received funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
  • The regenerated keratin fibres will have performance properties close to wool fibres and appearance close to silk.

Researchers in the US have secured an environmental trust grant for a project that aims to convert poultry feathers and waste garments into commercially viable textiles.

Led by professor Yiqi Yang at the University of Nebraska–Lincoln, the project focuses on developing textiles made from keratin fibres found in feathers and protein fibres in wool. Textiles made from these protein fibres have unparalleled performance properties, including moisture transmission and thermal insulation, according to a the research team.

"Fibres from our research could be used for the textile industry and also have potential in the biomedical industry," Yang explains. "To the best of our knowledge, no efficacious method has been developed to produce regenerated keratin fibres, despite global efforts during the last two decades."

Now, thanks to a US$211,885 two-year pilot-scale production grant from the Nebraska Environmental Trust, Yang is now able to further the study, with an initial goal of producing spinnable fibres on a lab scale before working to improve the process during a pilot. With the cooperation of the apparel and fashion industry, Yang hopes to produce enough keratin fibres and yarn to incorporate them into garments.

According to the university, the regenerated keratin fibres will have performance properties close to wool fibres and appearance close to silk.

Meanwhile, the research team is also working on a low-cost, efficient water-based solvent that will simultaneously de-crosslink and dissolve keratin from feathers while preserving protein backbones that give the fibres their desirable textile properties.

The project could create new markets, new small businesses and jobs for Nebraska poultry producers and the broader industry, says Yang, who adds the project could also result in a viable use for poultry and textile waste.

Nebraska's research is currently using feathers from what the university calls a 'clean feather producer' but in the future Yang says he would like to work with feathers directly from the poultry production industry in Nebraska.