Chicken feathers are waste products of the poultry industry creating a serious solid waste problem. It is estimated that 400 million chickens are processed every week. Typically as each bird has up to 125 grams of feathers, the weekly worldwide production of feather waste is about 3000 tons. Disposal of this bulk waste is a global environmental problem accounting for the pollution of land and underground water resources. Feather constitutes over 90% protein, and is composed of two types of Keratins α and β. Keratin is a fibrous and insoluble structural protein extensively cross-linked by disulfide bonds. Keratin consists of a number of amino acids but is largely made up of cysteine, lysine, proline, and serine. These amino acids tend to cross-link with one another by forming disulfide or hydrogen bonds resulting in fibers that are tough, strong, lightweight, and with good thermal and acoustic insulating properties. Keratinases are emerging to play a vital role in the degradation of keratin and its conversion into the digestible animal feed of higher nutritive value. A cost-effective fermentation media with stretch as carbon source and soybean meal as nitrogen source was designed along with optimization of physical parameters of fermentation resulting in a yield of > 500KU/ml, However, for most of the applications of Keratinase including bioconversion of feather into animal feed, leather processing, etc., crude or partially purified enzyme is sufficient. The poultry feathers pollute the soil or the burnt which again pollutes the air. In both cases, the presence of sulfur dioxide in feathers bears the danger behind heavy pollution. The use of Keratinolytic microorganisms for feather degradation is an economical, environmentally friendly alternative. Keratinases that are produced by these Keratinolytic organisms could be used to degrade waste and further the digested products could be an excellent material for producing animal feed, fertilizers, or natural gas.

Indian scientists have developed a new sustainable and affordable solution for converting keratin waste to fertilizers and animal feeds. Animal hair, poultry feathers, and other keratin-containing waste are usually dumped, sometimes landfilled, and incinerated. This process is followed throughout the world. But such action leads to pollution of soil, water, and air. Such waste, like feathers, also causes many diseases in humans.

India too generates a huge amount of human hair, animal hair, poultry feather waste, and wool waste each year. These wastes increase environmental hazards, pollution, and poses a threat to public health, and also increase greenhouse gas emissions.

But now there is good news for poultry and livestock farmers. Indian scientists have developed a new sustainable and affordable solution for converting keratin waste to fertilizers and animal feeds. These wastes are inexpensive sources of amino acids and protein – underlining their potential to be used as animal feed and fertilizer.

“Every keratinous waste can be treated to make fertilizers. In fact, from chicken feathers, we’ve been able to isolate a pure protein that can be consumed as a supplement by human beings,” said Professor A. B. Pandit, Vice-Chancellor, Institute of Chemical Technology Mumbai.

Professor Pandit, along with his students, has developed a technology to convert keratin waste to food for pets and fertilizers for plants with support from the ‘Waste Management Technology program of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. This novel technology is patented, easily scalable, environment-friendly, and energy-efficient, and will make amino acid-rich liquid fertilizers more economical as compared to currently marketed products.

News Reference

The time required for the process depends on the type of product needed.“If the product required is either animal feed or fertilizers, it takes about six to eight hours. If you wish to isolate the specific protein out of it, then there are additional two-three steps involved. If you want to separate the amino acids from the protein, then there are other steps required to be followed… There is value addition in each of those steps,” explained Professor Pandit.

His team used advanced oxidation for the conversion of waste to marketable fertilizers and animal feed. The key technology behind this involves pre-treatment followed by hydrolysis of keratin using a technique called Hydrodynamic Cavitation, which involves vaporization, bubble generation, and bubble implosion in a flowing liquid.

“The cost of isolating protein in pure form – that can be used as a protein supplement for human consumption – is working out to about Rs. 120-150 per kg,” said Professor Pandit.

“Compare that to the price of protein supplement available in the market for around Rs. 700-800 for a kg,” added the innovator. The current chemicals and the physical methods for such conversion are energy-intensive, chemically hazardous, and involve multiple steps – resulting in a higher cost for the final product. As calculated by the team, with this technology, the cost of the product at a large-scale plant is up to three folds cheaper than the existing market product. The scientists are currently implementing this technology at a large scale in collaboration with Revoltech Technologies Private Limited, Gujarat. This advancement in production will make liquid biofertilizers which are more efficient than the marketed product, available to farmers at an affordable rate.

“It works out to be extremely economical. Even liquid fertilizers can be sold for Rs. 15-20 a liter,” claimed the Vice-Chancellor.“The nitrogenous fertilizers are easily digestible by plants. Here you have natural fertilizer when the world is trying to move away from synthetic products due to the hazards,” he added.

Commercial poultry processing is a sector of the industry that produces large quantities of organic by-products. The inedible waste generated in poultry slaughterhouses is estimated to be approximately 89% of all by-products from poultry processing. Large quantities of feathers are produced as a waste by-product of a poultry processing plant. Feather waste is a serious problem worldwide as it is produced in large quantities every year. By-products derived from the activities of the industry include residues such as feathers, bone meal, blood, and calf. Chicken feathers make up 5% of the body weight of the chicken and form a significant waste product from the poultry industry.

These feathers have the problem of disposing of significant waste. Many different methods have been used to dispose of feather waste, such as landfilling, incineration, natural gas production, and fodder. They also often become hazardous to waste disposal/environmental pollution, incinerated, or dumped in landfills. Most feather waste can contaminate the air, soil, and water by filling or burning the ground. The current value-added use of feathers is to convert them into a feather meal, using digestible food protein, and physical and chemical treatments for fodder. These methods destroy certain amino acids and reduce protein quality and digestion. Innovative solution for waste disposal along with a biotechnological alternative for recycling keratin-rich waste is very important. Poultry feathers are insoluble in nature and are less susceptible to digestion due to proteolytic enzymes and chemical or physical factors mostly keratin content. High resistance to decay and diversity of microflora, including pathogenic microorganisms, make this feather waste an environmental and health hazard problem. Due to storage problems and microbiological threats, feather waste must be cleaned quickly. Currently, the main management method of feather by-products is feather meal production, which is used as an adjunct to fodder. Feathers are processed in utilization plants approved by steam pressure cooking. The consumption method requires high financial costs due to the high energy input that must be applied for the denaturation of keratin. Biological methods involving microorganisms and their enzymes can be applied to feather structure degradation as an alternative to current technology. Composting with manure is the cheapest and easiest way, but it is a lengthy process that must meet the requirements of a veterinary inspection, including a closed composting field with periodic sewer carries systems and periodic microbiological tests. The biggest problem for composting is odor emission and long tolerance. This process does not guarantee the destruction of keratin fibers or pathogenic organisms. The lack of easy and economically attractive methods for the use of feather waste allows for the discovery of new effective technology that ensures the normal use of consumer products. Keratin is a structural component of the interior of most birds, mammals, reptiles, and amphibians, usually occurs in nature and are therefore produced as a waste product in a variety of ways. Large amounts of keratinous waste from leather industries, agricultural industries, or slaughterhouses can lead to serious environmental impacts by dumping unused animal skins in the natural biological zone. The growing concern for environmental pollution and the immediate search for useful substances have led to the development of many technologies for the bioconversion of keratinous waste into recyclable products. Biodegradation of severely formed animal waste is now considered an alternative way to create a viable end product with benefits visible to primary producers in environmental and economic management strategies. The combination of specific waste products through biological methods not only leads to better utility production but also confidence in waste management practices.….click here to read the full news