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Unlocking a feather bioeconomy for keratin-based agricultural products

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - UNLOCK (Unlocking a feather bioeconomy for keratin-based agricultural products)

Berichtszeitraum: 2021-05-01 bis 2022-04-30

The poultry sector in Europe represents the second largest meat producing sector, accounting for a 31 % of meat production. More than 15,2 million tonnes of poultry meat were commercialized in 2018. Most of the production is located in large poultry processing facilities. As part of the meat production process, an estimated annual generation of 3,6 million tonnes of industrial feather waste is produced with associated management costs. Currently, just around 25% of the feathers generated are collected separately for feather meal and fertiliser applications (mid-low value application with high processing costs and a low profit margin), while the rest is either disposed in landfills and incinerators or collected together with other poultry by-products for poultry meal production. However, feathers are composed of nearly 90% of keratin, a valuable protein which can be used as a source of raw materials for biodegradable materials, such as bioplastics, to be applied in agriculture.
In this context, the main objective of UNLOCK project is the design and demonstration of an economically and environmentally sustainable supply-chain for a feather-based bioeconomy which will generate innovative bio-based functional materials for agricultural applications.
UNLOCK proposes new keratin-based bioplastics and geotextiles that can provide added functionalities and advantages derived from the use of feather keratin: i) tailor-made biodegradation adjusted to the crops’ duration, ii) input on nitrogen to the soil, iii) zero waste generation at their end of life and iv) cost competitive materials.
To do so, the project will focus on six pillars to enable the business case for feather valorisation:
1. Smart regional value chains design
2. Feather conversion technologies into keratin materials
3. End-product manufacturing for agricultural applications
4. Eco-design for closing the carbon and nutrient cycles
5. Economic, legal, environmental and social feasibility
6. Preparing market readiness through regional innovation clusters
The activities will demonstrate the feasibility of such value chains for the application of four feather keratin types into four agricultural applications.
During this period, within WP2, the poultry sector in EU has been assessed in depth, providing an overview of the poultry breeding, meat processing and ABP (Animal By-Product) rendering industries in five target countries in the EU, namely, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland. This analysis has included the mapping of the current poultry breeding, meat processing and rendering industries in these targeted countries, identifying number of companies, sizes and the current feather feedstock volumes. In addition to this, the waste management practices across key poultry producing countries in Europe previously named, has been studied. This study aimed to capture the regional availability of feather feedstock and the existing waste management practices to deal with this supply of feathers.
Within WP3, the arrangements for each business case are being addressed based on the key finding regarding the supply chain hurdles. Many of the challenges already identified exist currently in the feather value chain, for example, those relating to logistics and feather quality, and will transfer over to a novel value chain as hurdles.
In WP4 preliminary results on biodegradability of feathers treated by the main technologies involved in the project, have been obtained. Further research on composition and structure of treated feathers will be necessary to set the biodegradation mechanisms in each case.
Moreover, first samples of raw and treated feathers have been produced for materials development. The selection of polymeric matrices and the preparation of compounds in combination with treated feathers have been carried out (including geotextiles) for each of the end-products. These materials have been used for testing the disintegration behaviour in different environments in order to make a screening of formulations. For some of the formulations, prototypes containing treated feathers disintegrate faster than pristine material.
Within WP5, it has been carried out the identification of currently used materials for each of the targeted applications (benchmarking materials) as well as their properties and main crops requirements.
Within WP6, the different processes involved in each of the value chain have been defined. For each of the process it has been identified the main valorization route in terms of feather treatment as well as other possibilities in some cases. Until now, the comprehensive inventory, in which data corresponding to the identified processes and steps are being compiled.
Regarding exploitation of results, so far a preliminary exploitation plan has been outlined within WP7.
Dissemination and Communication activities (WP8) include the creation of the Visual identity of the project and communication materials (brochure, leaflet, website, social media, etc.).
During the first 12 months of the project, the consortium has proved the suitability of the technologies addressed in UNLOCK to produce treated feathers for the different applications. Preliminary results showed the different behaviour on biodegradation depending on the treatment. These treated feathers have been used to produce biodegradable compounds based on the selected polymer matrices. First results showed an improvement in disintegration of materials in different environments (industrial and home composting and soil biodegradation conditions).
Moreover, some prototypes of the targeted end-products have been already produced: trays, films, foams and geotextiles.
Due to the innovation potential of UNLOCK, the project is expected to have the following impacts:
1) BBI JU Key performance indicators:
• KPI 1 — create at least one new cross-sector interconnection in the bio-based economy. Three new cross-sector interconnection is expected to be created.
• KPI 2 — create at least one new bio-based value chain. The possible combination of technologies, untapped feedstock, novel end-product formulations, etc. will create at least 4 new value chains.
• KPI 6 — demonstrate at least two new consumer products containing bio-based food and/or non-food functional molecules that meet market requirements. Four types of end-products are expected: seed and forest trays, mulch films, geotextiles and hydroponic foams.

2) Environmental impacts include:
• Reduce overall CO2 emissions in the value chain by 20%, including from road transport where applicable.
• Reduce landfill in the region of the selected processing location.
• Contribute to the EU’s 2050 long-term strategy for a climate-neutral Europe by replacing fossil-based material with bio-based, renewable material.
• Sustainable Development Goals.

3) Economic impacts:
• Extract at least 50% more value from the residual streams compared with the state of the art.
• Produce at least one B2B or B2C product in sufficient quantities to allow validating the value chain.
• Increase competitiveness and regional impact.

4) Social impacts:
• Create new job opportunities in the bio-based sector in rural, coastal and/or urban areas.
• Contribute to social development in the related primary sector(s) (e.g. rural, forest or coastal development) by adding new value-chains and by creating sustainable, high-tech jobs supported by educational and training steps as needed.
Feathers generated in UNLOCK
Processing techniques