23/03/2018 12:03 SAST | Updated 23/03/2018 12:03 SAST

Your Lipstick Could Be Made From Chicken Feathers

Thanks to a new biorefinery facility that will turn biomass waste, such as chicken feathers, into valuable products.

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The creation of waste material is among the top threats to the environment today. Landfills continue to grow as we purchase disposable goods, and countries are running out of landfill space, including South Africa.

To address this problem, government recently launched a R37.5-million biorefinery facility in Durban— Biorefinery Industry Development Facility (BIDF). Its purpose will be to take biomass waste and see what value can be extracted from it to produce useful products.

If you look at the chemistry of chicken feathers, you find that they contain a protein called keratin. That protein is very valuable.

Professor Bruce Sithole, principal researcher and manager of forestry products at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), where the facility will be based, emphasised the potential of the BIDF to be of service to other sectors, for example, exploring the use of chicken feathers in high-value products.

Chicken feathers can have other uses

Small quantities of waste chicken feathers are processed into feed for livestock, but the majority of the waste is traditionally disposed of by burning or landfilling.

Speaking to Power FM on Friday morning, Sithole highlighted other potential valuable uses of chicken feathers that haven't yet been explored.

"If you look at the chemistry of chicken feathers, you find that they contain a protein called keratin...90 percent of it [feather] is keratin. That protein is very valuable. You can extract it and use it in different things..."

  • Cosmetics e.g. hair, nail polish, lipstick, shampoos
  • Super-absorbent material e.g. nappies. Fibres from the feathers, when spun, can be turned into yan for this material.
  • High-performance composites e.g. aircraft parts. Although very light, feathers can be used to make super-strong composite material.

Other uses of forestry waste

When we use trees for pulp and paper, we only extract about 47 percent value of the tree, the rest of the tree is lost as waste. Here as well, there's value.

  • Sugars: compound sugars that can be extracted and they can be eventually converted to make xylitol — a local sweetening agent
  • Speciality chemicals can be extracted from sawmill and dust shavings, while mill sludge can be converted into nanocrystalline cellulose, biopolymers and biogas

The Department of Science and Technology, together with the CSIR, hopes that this facility will help save the environment, create new jobs and help the country's economy grow.

"Our mandate requires us to use science and technology to contribute to scientific and industrial development, which will improve the competitiveness of the South African industry and also create new industries. The CSIR is using innovation to contribute to economic growth and thus assisting in the fight against poverty, inequality and unemployment," said Dr Thulani Dlamini, CSIR's CEO at the launch.