Feather Season at Locust Lane

June 28, 2009

     There are a limited number of bends my knees can handle in a day. Lately, they have been counted off while weeding in the garden, and when the knees start complaining, I resort to the improper bend at the waist. Sadly, there aren’t enough of those in me to get at all the weeds either, and we now have a new distraction.


Ant with a feather

     The birds are molting, lots of gorgeous keratin-composed feathers. When I molt my own personal supply of keratin, all I get is a frizzy and more often than not gray hair. These chicks have lots of gorgeous feathers, varied in color and form, just lying around the yard or the pen waiting to be picked up and admired. Suffering as I do from a serious form of disphobia, the inability to get rid of anything, I imagine lots of great uses for these bits of beauty. I must collect them to the joy of the weeds and toads and garter snakes, all of whom are happy I am not in the garden. Elle has a friend getting married who while trying to think of unique ways to decorate, thought of some ornaments we had made with feathers and loves the idea of using them somehow in her wedding. So there is a possible use for these feathers, meaning I must collect all of them possible.

     Another talent I am known for is burning dinner. Some scientists accidentally discovered that cooked chicken feathers are stronger than uncooked. From my experiences cleaning pots and pans, I probably could have told them that anything well carbonized from overcooking is much tougher than its original form. (although burnt chicken feathers are not something I have had to clean up). Chicken feather fibers are mostly made of keratin, a protein that forms strong hollow tubes. The scientists found that heating the feathers causes crosslinks in the protein. That makes it stronger and more porous, resulting in more surface area for the fiber. The carbonized chicken feather fibers  turn out to absorb hydrogen very efficiently. They can be produced far more cheaply than two other materials that are being studied for their hydrogen storage potential –  the carbon nanotube and metal hydrides. So the billions of tons of discarded chicken feathers produced each year now have future potential to help in the hydrogen-powered car.

      Right now, you would need a 75-gallon tank of overcooked chicken feathers to store enough hydrogen to go 300 miles. Once they manage to shrink that down, our chickens had better watch out because their feathers will be valuable for something more than wedding decorations. And that means my extensive collection of saved feathers will have value someday, reinforcing that need to collect them. And, by the way, chicken feather fibers are used in circuit board production, and can be combined with fiberglass in boat production. Who knows what other uses await in the future? So for any of you wanting feather fibers for your latest do-it-yourself project, give us a call. We can help you out, and you can feel good about encouraging me to collect more feathers.

       Important update: The in-house biology student says don’t count your chicken feathers before they cook. Hydrogen-fueled cars are not going to happen, according to a research paper he did last year. There are too many problems with contaminants in the storage containers, and it takes as much energy to make the hydrogen as you get when you burn it. Back to the wedding decorations . . . .

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