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Feathers – the future of animal feed?

The team behind the Feather2Feed project in Oslo
  • Publisert 26.10.2017
Feathers were flying as the Nordic Green Growth Research and Innovation Programme was kicked off in Oslo in September.

“We have five million tons of feathers being thrown away every year, and feathers are made of almost 90 percent protein. That is a huge waste, since they can be used as a sustainable alternative to other protein sources and it makes a lot of business sense to do so,” says Edvard Hall.


The feathers fly in the crispy autumn air and Hall, CEO at Bioextrax, and his colleagues are laughing as they throw more feathers in the air towards the sky.


“This is one of the raw materials to be used as a source of protein for the future,” says the project manager Diana Lindberg, Research Scientist at Nofima, bending down to pick up a handful of white down from the lawn where the team poses in front of a photographer.


Locally produced feather waste could well be used to replace ingredients such as fishmeal and soy protein in animal feed, which is what Hall and Lindberg are trying to do in the Feather2Feed project.


“There is a high demand for alternative sources of protein and other alternative ingredients for animal feed and it’s constantly increasing. In this project, we’re looking at the negative environmental aspects of the conventional process and developing a whole new combination of state-of-the-art techniques,” explains Lindberg.


Currently, the feathers are most often destroyed, used for soil improvement or burned for heat recovery. When used as raw material in protein feed, an energy-intensive chemical method is used to produce the feather flour.



Lignin – a natural resource with huge potential


The Feather2Feed team has a broad network and extensive expertise in the industry.  That’s also the case with the other five projects funded in the new joint Nordic Green Growth Research and Innovation Programme , funded by NordForsk, Nordic Innovation and Nordic Energy Research. The six projects' members gathered in Oslo in September to officially kick-off the programme, and to find synergies between the projects.


Two of the projects focus mainly on lignin, a by-product of wood processing that is left over after the extraction of cellulose and hemicellulose. Since lignin is produced in large quantities in the Nordic countries, it is an untapped but valuable resource.


“The advantage of this program, apart from the funding, is that it gives us the opportunity to exchange knowledge with the other projects. They have skills that we don’t possess, which will lead to various forms of valuable cooperation," says project manager for the Low Temperature Plasma for Chemical Production project, Martin Østberg at Haldor Topsøe.


The potential for forestry companies, paper mills and chemical companies hinges on their ability to utilise and manufacture biobased chemicals of lignin and replace the traditional raw materials used today, which are usually based on crude oil. In order to succeed, a more cost-effective process is needed, and developing such a process is the goal of one of the projects focusing on lignin.


“We will develop a process based on low temperature plasma with the aim of extracting valuable chemicals from lignin," says Østberg who can see interesting synergies between the two projects.



A greener alternative to plastic


The second project focusing on lignin, High-Value Products from Lignin, is led by Tarja Tamminen, Principal Scientist at VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland.


“Our goal is to develop techniques for using lignin as an alternative renewable source of raw material in selected unique applications,” says Tamminen.


The researchers study how lignin can be used in multifunctional metal coatings, ultra-clean biogas and functional films for biomedical applications as well as edible food packaging. The goal is to reduce production costs while improving the characteristics of a material that has been underused in the industry so far. 


The Nordic Green Growth Research and Innovation Programme combines high-quality research with innovative business solutions, and builds on the largest investment in research and innovation in the history of the Nordic region so far – the Top-level Research Initiative for climate, energy and the environment – launched by the Nordic prime ministers in 2008.