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Material Derived From Carbonized Chicken Feathers Could Meet DOE Hydrogen Storage Targets

Scientists at the University of Delaware are developing a new low-cost material for hydrogen storage—carbonized chicken feathers (CCFF)—that they say could meet the DOE requirements for hydrogen storage and are competitive with carbon nanotubes and metal hydrates at a tiny fraction of their cost. Their research was presented at ACS Green Chemistry Institute’s 13th Annual Green Chemistry & Engineering Conference on 23 June.

The Department of Energy’s (DOE) 2010 and 2015 hydrogen storage targets are 6 wt% and 9 wt% (gravimetric capacity); 45 and 81 grams H2 per L (volumetric capacity); and $4 and $2 per kWh (storage cost), respectively.

In order to solve the hydrogen storage problem, various kinds of nano-structured materials have been investigated and produced, none of which currently fulfill these targets entirely. Their disposal methods and degradability are still somewhat uncertain. Additionally, the prices of these materials are extremely expensive. It is crucial that the material that will serve as a hydrogen adsorbent in fuel cell vehicles is cheap and is environmentally benign.

The goal of University of Delaware project is to develop new low cost hydrogen storage substrates from an abundant waste material (6 billion lbs/yr in US): chicken feathers.

Chicken feather fibers are mostly composed of keratin, a natural protein that forms strong, hollow tubes. When chicken feathers are heat-treated by controlled pyrolysis, hollow carbon microtubes are formed with nanoporous walls. Their specific surface area increases up to 450 m2/g by the formation of fractals and micropores thus enabling more hydrogen adsorption than raw (untreated) feather fibers. The protein also creates crosslinks, which strengthen its structure.

The net result is carbonized chicken feather fibers, which can absorb as much or perhaps more hydrogen than carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides, according to Dr. Richard Wool, professor of chemical engineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources program at the University of Delaware in Newark.

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 says. 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.

The research was presented by Erman Senöz, a graduate student in the Department of Chemical Engineering at the University of Delaware in Newark.

In addition to hydrogen storage, Wool and his colleagues are 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.




I've often said the Hydrogen Economy is done, "Stick a fork in it".


It is going to take a lot of chicken eating to produce enough feathers to meet all that demand! They should start stockpiling it! Or maybe the feathers can be dug up!


#1: Props to Dr. Wool and his researchers for taking advantage of nature's manufacturing ability at a nano level, and embodying reduce-reuse-recycle in a smart way to solve a cost problem.

#2: I wonder how much they can improve on the volumetric density, given that a 75-gallon tank is quite large for most passenger vehicles?

#3: yes, how many 300-mile-capacity storage tanks can be made with 6 billion pounds of chicken feathers? Fortunately, the tanks should last for 15 years or so, so the question is really, "Can we make 150 million tanks with 90 billion pounds of chicken feathers?" Also, I hear they have chickens outside the United States, so there may be a global market.

Roger Pham

Smart...Very Smart.
I'd say "Eat more Chickin'".

Just wonderin' how they come up with 300-mile driving range out of 75 gallons? What is the size of the car, what type of FC and what's the pressure and temperature of the adsorbed H2 tank?


They already are trying carbonized corn cobs as well. The main gist on that one was they could store a fair amount at just 2 bar of pressure.

The main failure of the effort so far is they are treating the fuel cell car exactly like a gasoline car and trying to get the same size tank. Now if they were to take the space they use for elctric cars battery compartments and fit a fuel tank of that size into a fuel cell car it would have a huge range and wouldnt need to be all that complex or spendy either.


Hmmm...where have we seen this before...excess supply in ag product - research & development creates major new demand, government subsidies stir supply & demand into a frenzy - ag product price goes through the roof & everyone suffers (especially the poor)...(ahem! corn based ethanol)...


Stares at ejj... stares some more at ejj... chicken feathers are not food.


Where's all the hydrogen coming from?


Where's all the hydrogen coming from?

Why, easy! From the reformation of bio-gas derived from chicken poop!


H2 will be comming from anything cheap enough to make h2 for a profit just like electricity comes from anything that can make it at a profit.

Depending on how fuel efficient the fuel cells get that could allow rather spendy h2 while keeping per mile costs low.


Yes, ejj is confused about the causes of the 2008 commodities prices spike. That spike thrashed the biodiesel and ethanol industries alike, but please realize that everything has a use. Most poultry feathers are rendered into feather meal, an important protein source for animal feeds. So yes, feathers are a food source and part of the food chain.


Hydrogen will always be more expensive than the electricity or natural gas used to make it.

Also any material which can store H2 could also store CH4, a much better energy carrier than H2, and easily made from biological feedstocks


Perhaps a major increase in poultry prices, caused by a radical increase in the demand for feathers (don't tell me a vast new chicken feather market would have no effect of poultry prices), can be offset through the collection of birds that strike wind turbines, vehicles and buildings around the world. Maybe there will also be a way to harvest feathers from birds much like wool from goats.


I meant wool from sheep!


Or perhaps we will see a major decrease in poultry prices, caused by an increase in chicken production to meet the demand for chicken feathers.

Your idea of collecting birds that strike wind turbines, vehicles and buildings around the world shows real insight.
It should be easy to harvest these bird feathers much like horse feathers.
The demand for Windex and windmill blade sharpeners will creat more jobs.


"..300-mile driving range out of 75 gallons?"

They may have been referring to volume. That would be just under 10 cubic feet of adsorbed H2 volume. I wish they would refer to cubic feet or meters, the gallon stuff is confusing.

This might contain almost 8 kg of H2 for maybe 30 miles per kilogram. Not great mileage, but it beats 10,000 psi in my book. In spite of all the jokes, I think this is really important news.


That's storage... if it works, it only leaves 3 miracles to go for hydrogen. ;-)

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