Feathers to fibers project earns environmental trust grant

Feathers to fibers project earns environmental trust grant

Research led by Nebraska's Yiqi Yang is aimed at converting poultry feathers and waste garments into commercially viable textiles. The project recently received funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.
Graphic illustration
Research led by Nebraska's Yiqi Yang is aimed at converting poultry feathers and waste garments into commercially viable textiles. The project recently received funding from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

Yiqi Yang’s ongoing research into converting poultry feathers and waste garments into commercially viable textiles has received grant support from the Nebraska Environmental Trust.

The University of Nebraska–Lincoln professor 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,” said Yang. “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.

Yiqi Yang
Yiqi Yang

Yang’s goal is to first produce spinnable fibers on a lab scale, then to improve the process at a pilot scale. 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 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 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 production industry in Nebraska.

Yang is a professor of textiles, clothing and fashion design, and biological systems engineering. He holds appointments in Nebraska’s College of Education and Human Sciences and the College of Engineering.