Light as a feather
Eastern BioPlastics, in Mt. Crawford, Va., has commer- cialized a way to turn an underutilized byproduct of the poultry industry — chicken feathers — into bio composite fiber through the company’s line of Emerald resins. Sam Carr, business development manager for the firm, says the processed feather fibers are blended with polypropylene and polyethylene, and the resulting composite material is then processed into injection-mold grade pellets.
Carr says they started R&D in 2008 and began manu- facturing in 2010, currently operating a pilot plant. “We’re getting our process down,” Carr says, and the company anticipates delivery of a new extruder in June to ramp up production to 15 million pounds annually. “It’s a little bit different from any other bio composite, because we’re taking a waste material that has little value and using it in a plastic product.”
The firm has a patent pending on the wash cycle used to prepare the feathers for processing. “We’re able to grind the feathers and then put it into plastic,” says Carr. “We blend the feather fibers with polypropylene and put them through an extruder, and then we pelletize it.” According to the company’s website, the Emerald resin is currently used in manufacturing latches, closures and sporting goods.
Substituting feathers for fiberglass lowers the composite’s density, says Carr. “If you look at most other bio composites, a lot of the time they get a little bit heavier,” he says. “Ours is actually a decrease in density, and it increases the flexibility while keeping the same characteristics as far as the tensile and sufficient strength are concerned.” The portion of composite content de- rived from feathers will not increase in price, unlike petroleum-based composites, which are expected to rise steeply in price over time, he says, and it gives the company a competitive advantage over conventional non-bioplastics. Carr anticipates the bio composite will be equal to “if not lower, than traditional polypropylene prices.”
Univenture cracks bonding issue with bio fibers
The United Soybean Board, in concert with Battelle Memorial Institute, in Columbus, Ohio, aims to raise soybean revenue by incorporating soy flake into compos- ites, and increase bio composites adoption, says Keith J. Masavage, chief of strategy and operations for Biobent Polymers, in Marysville, Ohio. He says Battelle set a pretty aggressive goal of achieving price parity between petroleum-based plastic and soy bioplastic, while still preserving composite performance.
“This new class of bioplastics is linked on the molecular level to maintain core characteristics of plastic, which are missing in all other biopolymer-composites, while dramatically reducing petroleum use in manufacturing,” says T. R. Masey, media relations specialist for Battelle.