Generating clean electricity from... chicken feathers?

Not as exciting as it sounds – BUT it is another example of a valuable source of biomaterials that we've been throwing away or burning instead of making better use of it.

Generating clean electricity from... chicken feathers?
Photo by Hana Oliver / Unsplash

Okay, so here's a headline that was written to attract maximum eyeballs.

On the one hand, it's great that scientists have figured out a way to make fuel-cell membranes from the keratin in chicken feathers that would otherwise go to the incinerator and add more CO2 and sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere. It's also great that the feather-derived keratin eliminates the need for the toxic chemicals that are normally used in these fuel-cell membranes.

On the other, we're talking about chicken feathers being the source of a material being used in one small part of a hydrogen fuel cell here... not exactly creating electricity directly from the feathers, you know? Plus, I must confess to being somewhat wary of stories that hype up hydrogen in general because the biggest source of hydrogen is currently fossil fuel production, so oil and gas companies have a vested interest in promoting all things hydrogen-related.

However! It does look like progress is being made in the development of green hydrogen (which is made when renewable energy such as wind or solar power is used to generate hydrogen from water through a process called electrolysis), though challenges remain in figuring out how to transport hydrogen from its origin to the place where it gets used.

But when I see a headline talking about clean energy getting produced from chicken feathers – and I'm thinking, how??? biomass?? – only to discover we're talking about what sounds like a small cog in a hypothetical hydrogen machine, I'm just a wee bit disappointed.

Anyways! Back to the chicken feathers!

I do think it's cool that the researchers are looking for ways to use their keratin to create usable items instead of burning the feathers and adding to the emissions problem. And if green hydrogen does become more of a thing, as many energy experts predict/hope it will, then using biodegradable keratin instead of the toxic chemicals that are currently being used in fuel cells seems like a good way to go.

Read the full article here.

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