Electricity from chicken feathers

Researchers want to use chicken feathers to produce green electricity. They use the keratin in chicken feathers to replace highly toxic chemicals in fuel cells.

a chicken farm from the inside

A research team from ETH Zurich and Nanyang Technological University in Singapore (NTU) has filed a patent for a chicken feather fuel cell membrane.

Fuel cells are devices that convert energy from the chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen from the air into electrical energy. The chemical reaction results in the generation of electrical power, water and heat as by-products.

At the heart of a fuel cell is a membrane that allows protons (hydrogen ions) to pass through while preventing electrons from passing through it. Until now, highly toxic chemicals called PFAS have been used for such membranes, according to ETH. They are expensive and not degradable by the environment.

40 million tonnes of chicken feathers

The researchers have now developed a membrane that consists of the protein keratin from chicken feathers. This is available in large quantities, because chicken feathers consist of 90 percent keratin. Every year, around 40 million tonnes of chicken feathers are burnt, which releases large amounts of CO2 and toxic gases such as sulphur dioxide.

Using a simple process, the researchers extract the keratin from the feathers and convert it into fine fibres called amyloid fibrils. These are then used in the membrane.

However, there are still some challenges to be overcome before this new technology can be used. In a next step, the researchers will test how durable their keratin membrane is. In addition, hydrogen has not yet established itself as a sustainable energy source, the university says.

Written by: sda

Photos: Keystone

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