Auckland University researchers develop fire-retardant material from chicken waste

A group of Auckland researchers have a project that kills two birds with one stone - reducing waste and saving lives.

They've created a cheap flame-retardant material that could be used for household furnishings. What it's made out of, however, may surprise you.

The average Kiwi eats about 40 chickens a year, leaving the issue of what to do with billions of chicken feathers. But now, researchers at the University of Auckland have found a solution to that problem. 

"We can pulverise this and we can get this kind of flame retardant," says Auckland University research fellow Daeseung Jung.

The researchers have taken chicken feathers, mixed them with chemicals and a polymer to create a plastic material. 

"That is the biggest attraction, that we can reduce a societal waste, not just in New Zealand,  in other countries also," says Auckland University Distinguished Professor Debes Bhattacharyya.

But what's piqued one company's interest, is the material's fire-retardant capabilities.

If you take a normal piece of plastic and apply a direct flame for 10 seconds then take it away, it drips and smokes and only stops burning when there's nothing else left to burn through - creating a melted mess.

But with a material made with chicken feathers, something different happens: it stops burning.

"That's why we tried to add the fibres which have been treated by the material to the composite material and then we achieve the self extinguishment from this test," says Auckland University research fellow Nam Kim.

This new, more fire-resistant material could end up in your house.

"You can injection mould or you can extrude them into a product. You can even create a bucket out of that if necessary, you can produce a moulded chair if necessary, you can, of course, produce flooring materials," says Prof Bhattacharyya.

The impetus for the work came after the Grenfell Tower disaster in London, where 72 people died.

The rapid spread of the fire was attributed to the building's cladding, something this team is looking into.

"You can convert a waste material, almost, into a very valuable fire-retardant product, locally made, locally produced," says Prof Bhattacharyya.

And that doesn't just solve practical, life-saving issues, it also fulfills a social responsibility to reduce waste.