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06 | 2010

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Materials From Feathers

Materials From Feathers to Plastic – A Sustainable Alternative Article contributed by Sonny Meyerhoeffer Principal Eastern BioPlastics, LLC Mount Crawford, Virginia, USA Poultry feathers mixed with plastics? Poultry feathers converted into plastics? Everyday individuals, like you, join the cause to help conserve the world’s natural resources and create a more sustainable environment. It takes everyone doing their part. Through the manufacture of feather-based bioplastics Eastern BioPlastics LLC is fulfilling their role in Mount Crawford, VA. The entrepreneurial spirit of the founder of Eastern BioPlastics was immediately energized as Dr. Justin Barone demonstrated how to convert raw poultry feathers into plastic. Dr. Barone explained this is proven technology—keratin (protein in feathers) can be processed into a polymer. There was just one problem… no company had been able to engineer the processes to mass produce feather-based plastic resin in an economical manner. Embracing the challenge and envisioning the opportunity to provide jobs, conserve the environment, and create a sustainable company, Eastern BioPlastics was launched in April 2008. Eastern BioPlastics began developing and implementing plans to process feather-based bioplastics in an economical fashion. This involved custom engineering machines and processes to sort, wash, dry and grind poultry feathers. In less than two years, the Company designed, built and implemented the innovative machines and processes to efficiently and effectively prepare feathers for further processing. 34 bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/10] Vol. 5

Materials Today, Eastern BioPlastics operates a pilot commercial plant that manufactures feather-based bioplastic resin pellets. Commercially available composite resin pellets are a blend of proprietary feather materials and traditional plastics. To date, the Company has mixed as much as 40% biobased (feather) material with polypropylene (PP), high density polyethylene (HDPE), and low density polyethylene (LDPE). They have successfully colored these materials to match a variety of processor demanded colors. Every week, the Company is developing new biocomposite formulations to meet the desired specifications of their partners. It does not get any better than this—bioplastics that do not compete with food related raw materials and that can be mixed with traditional plastics. With about a million tonnes (over 2 billion pounds) of dry feathers available annually in the United States, these biocomposites add value to what once was considered a waste stream. Consistent, lowprice raw material inputs and custom designed efficient processes boost the Company’s competitive edge allowing these bioplastics to be competitively priced with comparable petroleum plastic alternatives. Processers do not need to retool to process this material. Biocomposite resin pellets can be implemented directly into existing plastic processes just like any other resin, often requiring lower processing temperatures. Much of the research to date has been focused on the extrusion and injection molding of these resins. Continued research efforts involve perfection of extrusion and injection molding applications and the exploration of film extrusion, sheet extrusion, profile extrusion, thermoforming and blow molding. Feather fibers are believed to add strength while decreasing the density of most traditional polyolefins. It makes sense. Long fibers that contain encased air pockets and tangle amongst themselves will theoretically strengthen end products while decreasing density. Eastern BioPlastics is continuing to perfect and test composite blends to achieve optimal properties. While these bioplastics are not yet FDA approved they are suitable for a variety of applications within these industries: • Agriculture • Automotive • Construction • Electronics • Furniture • Industrial • Materials Handling • Sporting Goods The Company currently manufactures and markets bioplastic composite resins and injection molded horticulture containers. These horticulture containers are a blend of 70% traditional plastic and 30% biobased feather material (see picture). Eastern BioPlastics is quickly becoming a competitive bioplastics manufacturer with this innovative technology. Essential to the advancement of the Company’s technology is the continued research and development of their 100% biodegradable plastic resin formulations. These formulations are purely keratin-based, eliminating all traces of petroleum. Better yet, materials molded with these formulations biodegrade within a matter of months. While these formulations are not yet commercially available, they remain central to the future growth of Eastern BioPlastics. Eastern BioPlastics has the potential to drastically reduce the plastics industry’s dependence on petroleum. Our world is reliant on plastic—a material that is contributing to the exhaustion of non-renewable crude oil, pollutes the environment, endangers wildlife and is filling up landfills. Now, there is an economical viable alternative; an alternative that utilizes feather waste, reduces petroleum consumption, and is affordable. bioplastics MAGAZINE [06/10] Vol. 5 35

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