Textiles from chicken feathers
Due to industrial factory farming, there are three times as many chickens as people in the world. In the EU alone, 3.1 million tonnes of chicken feathers are produced every year (1), which pose a major disposal problem due to overbreeding and rapidly spreading diseases.
HYNER develops textiles from chicken feather waste and promotes biodiversity by offering to be a godparent for chickens. 180 chicken species provide a diverse spectrum of feather colours and patterns. For biological reasons, the chicken’s lose their feathers once a year during the moulting season. Using the resource-saving technology of hydroentanglement, we create a recyclable fleece with the properties of wool and a silk-like sheen. Feathers consist of 90% keratin, a protein that is chemically processed as bioplastic or impregnating spray to create further added value in the cycle.
(1) According to the European Commission, 13.1 million tonnes of poultry meat were produced in the European Union (EU-28) alone in 2014, generating an estimated 3.1 million tonnes of feather litter. (https://fkur.com/news/forschungsprojekte/karma)
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Currently, only a small proportion of chicken feather waste is processed into fertiliser and animal feed or further thought in research as fibre-reinforced composites.
Wouldn’t it be great to find a use for this resource, so fascinating and complexly designed by nature, instead of disposing it of?
Feathers have wool-like properties and their structure, with honeycomb-like small air pockets, makes them particularly thermally insulating. They are also suitable as textiles thanks to their low density and water resistance.
In several experiments, I investigated the potential of chicken feathers in more detail. I wove them, spun a yarn, tried to felt them, dyed them and processed them further like paper. In the BioLab, I dissolved the feathers completely in caustic soda to extract the keratin, explore the protein-containing material as a bioplastic and check the chemical recyclability.
In my search for different applications for the feathers, I also kept asking myself how we would cultivate them. What if, by appreciating and adding value to chicken feathers, we could simultaneously improve the standard of living of chickens and biodiversity?
The company HYNER develops and recycles textiles from feather waste for this purpose. For each garment made from HYNER fleece, the consumer signs up for a chicken sponsorship. With the HYNER app, each person can individually configure a garment that determines its colour depending on the type of chicken.
The HYNER network can then be used to find a suitable chicken godparent hood in the vicinity. This gives the consumer additional information about the housing conditions of your chicken. Through an initial trial as a godparent, you can rent the configured garment for 6 months. After that, you have the option of returning the garment to the company or owning it for an unlimited period of time for a monthly fee as a godparent. For each garment produced, the chicken farmers receive a fair compensation payment from the company, which should guarantee best housing conditions for the chickens and improve their habitat, for example. When returning the garment, the user receives a recycling discount on the next piece of clothing, because at HYNER all fleeces are recycled and a recycled content is added to new garments.
The chicken keepers send their collected feathers to HYNER after completion of the sponsorship. They are first professionally cleaned and sorted on site.
The feather branches are then separated from the rhachis in a process yet to be developed. In the next step, the soft feather branches are creped and the fibrous web is created. I have already been able to try this out in cooperation with the Saxon Textile Research Institute (STFI). I got first fleece results by needling. Here, feathers were placed between two layers of viscose pile. Whether the feather fleece only works as a composite, for example by mixing viscose, recycled wool waste, or with other natural fibres, and what advantages or design possibilities this offers, is something I will further deepen my research on in future cooperations with the STFI.
The aim is to produce a stable fleece with a silky sheen and the colourful shimmering effects of feathers. Until now, similar effects could only be produced from synthetic fibres through an energy-intensive process. The natural variance in colours and patterns of the feathers also creates individual melange effects.
In general, textiles made from chicken feathers are an energy-saving and environmentally friendly alternative to organic cotton, among others, because the latter requires enormous amounts of water and many hectares of farmland in the manufacturing process. This is because HYNER nonwovens are produced using the resource-saving technology of hydroentanglement.
The fleece can be used not only as a garment, after the second or third recycling process, but also as a durable carpet. In the last step, it can then be returned to the chicken farmers as insulation material for house and yard or used as filling material for new clothing.
In an environmentally friendly chemical process, the fleece is also further processed into a bioplastic film that serves the company as packaging material. Some of the rhachis produced can be used from the beginning, after sorting, in the same process to make film or as an impregnating spray for clothing to make it flame-retardant. In the further chemical recycling process, the film is turned into a thermoplastic bioplastic from which buttons are injection-moulded.
The sustainable textile company HYNER creates transparency and trust between producers and consumers by arranging chicken partnerships and, therefore, we also support biodiverse chicken farming through its feather-light fleeces with unique melange effects. From a sleeve to a trouser button – HYNER.