We currently live a world of high performance materials that have been engineered to provide numerous improvements to our quality of life. However, it is becoming increasingly apparent that as our society continues to grow, we are placing a growing strain on the environment through the creation, use and disposal of such materials. For example, often non-renewable resources are consumed, or end of life options for products are limited resulting in items being thrown into landfill. Therefore, the engineering focus of tomorrow must be in identifying ways of minimising the negative impact that our materials have on the environment.
A growing global population also faces other pressures, namely how to provide food to billions of individuals. We are starting to become more aware of the environmental issues surrounding meat consumption, particularly regarding the beef industry. However, it is also important to consider the consequences of poultry consumption. Chicken will soon be the most popular meat on the planet due to fast growth rates, high protein content and an economically attractive production method. Although we consume 134 million birds a day across the world, we often forget that not all of the bird ends up on our plate. 16,000 tonnes of feather waste are created every single day and in the UK alone, we generate 2000 tonnes per week. This is a significant waste disposal issue as the volume of feathers produced means that landfill is unsuitable as a disposal method. Instead, feathers are processed using an energy-intensive process called rendering. Rendering involves feathers being steam-cooked and made into a low-grade animal feed, however since regulations were brought into place after the BSE crisis in the 1990s, its applications are limited.
At AEROPOWDER, we believe that feathers are capable of much more. Made from keratin proteins, nature has designed feathers to be strong, lightweight, water repellent, thermally and acoustically insulating. In essence, feathers are a naturally occurring, high performance material, so at AEROPOWDER we are exploring several avenues of developing novel, high value applications utilising waste feathers. Propositions include lightweight, biodegradable composites; sound-absorbing panels; sustainable insulation materials; and even water repellent coatings – all made from chicken feathers. These solutions will allow us not only to tackle the pressing waste issue facing the poultry industry, but also introduce products into wider society that will minimise our impact on the environment.
AEROPOWDER started in December 2015 when we started exploring a project based on keratin waste, including human hair, horse hoof and bird feathers. During this project we created over 400 prototypes and conducted a broad range of testing. It soon became clear from our research the scale of the problem that waste feathers represented, and we started to focus on creating new materials from down feathers. Ultimately, we developed a low-carbon conversion process to create feather-based products.
Our first application was a novel feather-derived insulation material that was not only low cost and high performance, but also environmentally friendly. In March 2016, our feather-based insulation won the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur Award as a sustainable method to improve the thermal efficiency of London’s housing stock. From this point, we formed AEROPOWDER as a start-up company and began working towards releasing products to market.
Looking to the future, AEROPOWDER will move beyond just manufacturing insulation. We plan to develop a platform technology for feather waste conversion that can be used around the world. Our philosophy is to improve the reuse of waste materials, partnering with manufacturers so that the advantages of feather based materials can be utilised in a range of products. By reducing solid wasting and other environmental problems, we will be able to generate significant socioeconomic benefits, create new business and new revenue streams – wherever we eat chicken!