Researchers tickled by feathers’ prodigious hydrogen storage capabilities

Scientists from the University of Delaware say that carbonized chicken feather fibers can hold vast amounts of hydrogen and do it at a far lower cost than other hydrogen storage systems currently under consideration. The research, presented at the 13th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference, could eventually help overcome some of the hurdles to using hydrogen fuel in cars, trucks and other machinery.

“Carbonized chicken feather fibers have the potential to dramatically improve upon existing methods of hydrogen storage and perhaps pave the way for the practical development of a truly hydrogen-based energy economy,” said Richard P. Wool, director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program at the University of Delaware.

Wool explained that chicken feather fibers are mostly composed of keratin, a natural protein that forms strong, hollow tubes. When heated, this protein creates crosslinks, which strengthen its structure, and becomes more porous, increasing its surface area. The net result is carbonized chicken feather fibers, which can absorb as much or perhaps more hydrogen than carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides, two other materials being studied for their hydrogen storage potential.

Using carbonized chicken feathers would only add about $200 to the price of a car, according to Wool. By comparison, making a 20-gallon hydrogen fuel tank that uses carbon nanotubes could cost $5.5 million; one that uses metal hydrides could cost up to $30,000.

Wool estimates that it would take a 75-gallon tank to go 300 miles in a car using carbonized chicken feather fibers to store hydrogen. He says his team is working to improve that range. In addition to hydrogen storage, Wool is working on ways to transform chicken feather fibers into a number of other products including hurricane-resistant roofing, lightweight car parts and bio-based computer circuit boards.

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Source: American Chemical Society

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