Unless you are a vegetarian, you probably agree that chicken is delicious. But could this fowl have a future in automobiles? According to a presentation made at the 13th Annual Green Chemical and Engineering Conference this weekend…maybe. It seems that carbonized chicken feathers can hold hydrogen quite well; better than carbon nanotubes or metal hydrides currently being tested as hydrogen carriers. Could this solve the infrastructure problems currently holding hydrogen technology back?
The concept was presented by University of Deleware Engineering graduate student Erman Senoz. It works like this; chicken feathers are made up of a natural protein called keratin. This forms hard, hollow tubes (if you’ve ever plucked a feather, you know what I’m talking about) that when heated creates crosslinks. This in turn strengthens the structure, becomes more porus, and increases the surface area. These carbonized feather-tubes can hold as much, if not more than the much-more expensive carbon nanotubes or metal hydrirdes.
According to the Happy News article, a 20 gallon nanotube tank would cost upwards of $5.5 million, and a similar sized metal hydride tank in the area of $30,000. Chicken feathers are abundent and cheap, and Professor Richard P. Wool estimates it would add just $200 to the price of a car. Where he got those numbers, I’m not sure, but right now I am about ready to believe anything. First pee-power, now chicken feathers? You’ve got to admire the ingenuity of some of these alternative fuel mavericks.
Wool also estimates that a 75 gallon tank full of hydrogen and carbonized chicken feathers could currently travel about 300 miles, but they are working to improve that range. That is only 4 miles per gallon, but hey, its hydrogen, the most abundent resource in the universe. It’s a start if anything.
Hydrogen gas takes up about 40 times as much room as petrol, and as a liquid it needs to be kept very cold, resulting in high pressure tanks (10,000 psi sometimes). This means that while we have the technology to utilize hydrogen as a propellent, it is difficult to transport. It currently takes about 20 gallons of hydrogen gas to go a single mile. But perhaps chicken feathers can change all that? Will there come a time when we will say “Mm, my fuel tastes like chicken…”