According to the British Poultry Council, around 900 million chickens are slaughtered each year by the poultry industry, producing 2,000 tonnes of feather waste per week. Most of the feathers end up in landfill, or go through an energy-intensive process to be made into animal feed. But can this waste product be used more sustainably?
London start-up AeroPowder believes the answer is yes. Founded in May 2016 by two students from Imperial College London, the company creating cheaper and more environmentally-friendly insulation for homes, composed almost entirely of waste feathers.
As part of her research into potential uses for feather waste, design engineering student and one of two co-founders of AeroPowder, Elena Dieckmann, ordered a 10kg box of excess feathers from about 70 chickens. At first, she had no idea what they might be used for, but soon the answer became obvious.
“We thought about what feathers are good for, which is mainly protecting chickens and birds from water and the cold,” says Elena. “In the same way, we realised we could use the properties of feathers to insulate our homes. Nature had already designed the perfect solution for sustainable insulation!
“We did quite a bit of research into feathers and it turned out they showed quite a lot of potential. We then started productising and working on prototypes and realised we were really going somewhere with it. We applied for Shell LiveWIRE and it helped us commercialise the idea and bring it to life.”
According to the Energy Saving Trust, an uninsulated home experiences 66% heat loss through solid walls, which can be detrimental to people’s health and costs consumers money. AeroPowder’s insulation product is a sustainable alternative to polyurethane foam in boards that are commonly used for home insulation. According to Elena Aeropowder insulation has not only has similar heat-retention qualities to current insulation materials, but is also much cheaper.
“Feathers are made up of strong and chemically stable keratin proteins. They possess a microscopic structure with a hollow interior, allowing them to stay lightweight and also trap air for insulation purposes.
“These products not only will be able to thermally insulate a building, but also can biodegrade in landfill.”
Given the UK’s housing stock is some of the most poorly insulated in the developed world, with side effects costing the NHS an estimated £1.36bn every year, AeroPowder’s product has the potential to make a big impact. Long-term, Elena and her team will be focusing on testing Aeropowder Insulation further, with a view to bring it to market.
She added: “Our next task is to get a pilot production ready. We want to develop a little facility where we can process a certain amount of feathers to produce samples and get people interested in our work.
“Following that we will then look into scaling up the business with larger facilities and bringing more partners on board to help drive the business. We are also hoping to start growing our team, there’s only our two co-founders, an intern and six freelancers at the moment but we can definitely see this growing in the near future.”
AeroPowder has already had a great start to the year, having won the Mayor of London’s Low Carbon Entrepreneur Award and, most recently, funding from Shell LiveWIRE, a programme providing monthly start-up-grants, coaching and online business support to young sustainable entrepreneurs, which they plan to use to propel the company’s marketing campaign.
The company has also been shortlisted for the Travis Perkins Innovation Award (2016) and gained access to the Climate-KIC accelerator programme.
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