Increasingly, animal agricultural research delves beyond livestock production and management in hopes of finding new and/or non-traditional uses for products.
For example, University of Nebraska-Lincoln professor Yiqi Yang’s ongoing research on converting poultry feathers and waste garments into commercially viable textiles has received grant support from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Yang and his research team are focused on developing a product made from keratin fibers found in feathers and protein fibers in wool. Textiles made from these protein fibers have unparalleled performance properties, including moisture transmission, thermal insulation, soft hand and luster.
“Fibers from our research could be used for the textile industry and also have potential in the biomedical industry, especially as tissue engineering scaffolds,” Yang said. “To the best of our knowledge, no efficacious method has been developed to produce regenerated keratin fibers, despite global efforts during the last two decades.”
The Nebraska Environmental Trust recently awarded Yang a $211,885, two-year, pilot-scale production grant to further the study.
Yang’s goal is to first produce spinnable fibers on a laboratory scale, then to improve the process at a pilot scale, an announcement from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln said. With the cooperation of the apparel and fashion industry, Yang hopes to produce enough keratin fibers and yarn to incorporate them into garments.
The regenerated keratin fibers will have performance properties close to wool fibers and appearance close to silk, the announcement said. The researchers are working on a low-cost, efficient water-based solvent that will simultaneously de-crosslink and dissolve keratin from feathers while preserving protein backbones that give the fibers their desirable textile properties.
Yang said developing these fibers from waste materials can create new markets, new small businesses and new jobs for Nebraska poultry producers and the broader industry. The project could also result in a viable use for poultry and textile waste.
Nebraska’s research is currently using feathers from a “clean feather producer,” but in the future, Yang would like to work with feathers directly from the poultry industry in Nebraska, the announcement said.
Yang is a professor of textiles, clothing and fashion design as well as biological systems engineering. He holds appointments in Nebraska’s College of Education & Human Sciences and the College of Engineering.