Scientists in India have devised new technology that converts keratin waste such as human hair, wool, and poultry feathers into fertilizer, pet food, and animal feed. The technology was developed by Prof. AB Pandit, Vice-Chancellor of the Mumbai Institute of Chemical Technology, with his students. Newly developed technology offers an affordable and sustainable solution for treating keratin waste.
What is keratin?
Keratin is the type of protein that makes our hair, skin, and nails. It is also found in our internal organs and glands. It can be derived from the feathers, horns and wool of different animals and is also used as an ingredient in hair cosmetics.
What is keratin waste?
However, keratin is also the main waste generated when processing poultry from feathers, hair, scales, nails, etc. It is generally hard and difficult to hydrolyze. But the advantage is that it is inexpensive and contains over 85% protein.
Currently, tens of millions of tons of keratin waste are produced each year around the world; of which feather waste represents approximately 8.5 million tonnes. However, there is hardly any effective method for the recovery of waste keratin.
Keratin waste in India
India generates a huge amount of human hair, poultry feather waste and wool waste every year. Globally, around 8.5 billion tonnes of poultry feathers are produced each year, of which India’s contribution alone is 350 million tonnes.
Bad impact of keratin waste
Keratin waste is thrown away, buried, used for landfill or incinerated, increasing environmental risks, pollution and threat to public health. Waste also increases greenhouse gas emissions.
Keratin waste is considered an environmental pollutant and is mainly generated by poultry farms, slaughterhouses and leather industries. The major producer of keratin waste includes the United States of America, China, India, and Brazil which produce millions of tons of keratin-containing protein.
The technology developed by the Institute of Chemical Technology addresses the issue of keratin waste. Keratin waste is inexpensive sources of amino acids and protein, which highlights their potential for use as animal feed and fertilizer.
About the technology
The new technology is easily scalable, environmentally friendly, energy efficient, and makes liquid amino acid rich fertilizers that are more economical compared to products currently on the market.
In addition, it uses advanced oxidation to convert waste into marketable fertilizer and animal feed. The key technology behind this involves pretreatment followed by hydrolysis of the keratin using a technique called hydrodynamic cavitation, which involves vaporization, bubble generation, and bubble implosion in a flowing liquid.
Current chemicals and physical methods for such conversion are energy intensive, chemically hazardous, and involve multiple steps resulting in a higher cost of the final product. As calculated by the team, with this technology, the cost of the product in a large-scale factory, processing inputs of 1 ton per, is up to 3 times cheaper than the existing market product.
Advantages / Impact of technology
At a time when every possible effort is being made to achieve sustainable developments, new technology is a positive development to address environmental concerns, while also providing opportunities for animal feed.
Potential fertilizer: Keratin contains amino acids and proteins, making it potential candidates for plant fertilizers. Nitrogen fertilizers are easily digestible by plants.
Benefit for farmers: Additionally, advancing technology production will make liquid biofertilizers, which are three times more effective than the marketed product, available to farmers at an affordable price. Thus, it can help the socio-economic development of farmers and the country.
Sustainable solution: The technology developed by the professor and his team not only addresses the problem of keratin waste, but also recycles it to use the available proteins in a sustainable way. It addresses issues such as waste management, environmental pollution and degradation of soil fertility.