How to turn poultry feather waste into sustainable foams suitable for hydroponic crop systems

AIMPLAS, the Plastics Technology Centre, is working on the development of new foams made with poultry feathers for sustainable hydroponic crop systems within the framework of UNLOCK, an initiative funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme.

A consortium by 14 partners from 7 European countries is working on this project, coordinated by Fundación CIDETEC, with the aim of favouring a sustainable, circular bioeconomy focused on the creation of new value chains of byproducts such as poultry feathers, which are usually discarded or underused, as a means of developing rural areas and expanding their economies.

UNLOCK proposes manufacturing bioplastics and biotextiles from feather keratin, which have properties that can give the final product new functionalities, such as a biodegradation capacity adjusted to crop duration, providing the soil with organic nitrogen, not generating waste at the end of their life cycle and being cost competitive. Polyurethane foams are currently the most popular solution for this kind of application due to their low density, low cost, and good water retention, but they can contain harmful chemicals, are difficult to sterilize, and are a major source of microplastics.

To improve the environmental impact and product life cycle, AIMPLAS is working on solutions for three different hydroponic crop accessories: cloning collars, oasis root cubes and minidisks, an alternative substrate format similar to perlite.