Final Report: Chicken Feather Fibers for Hydrogen Storage

EPA Grant Number: SU834324
Title: Chicken Feather Fibers for Hydrogen Storage
Investigators: Wool, R. P. , Campanella, Alejandrina , Danner, Kate , Senoz, Erman , Stanzione III, Joseph F , Watson, Cara , Zhan, Mingjiang
Institution: University of Delaware
EPA Project Officer: Nolt-Helms, Cynthia
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2009 through August 14, 2010
Project Amount: $10,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2009) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: P3 Awards , Sustainability , Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Materials & Chemicals , P3 Challenge Area - Ecosystems


The primary goal of the project was to develop new low cost hydrogen storage substrates from chicken feathers. This approach can potentially compete with expensive adsorbent materials such as carbon nanotubes and metal hydrides at a fraction of the cost, thus providing a source of cheaper, renewable energy. The preparation process of the new novel, renewable, and bio-based material does not involve any petroleum-based chemical treatment.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

Summary of Findings (Outputs/Outcomes):

A Sievert’s apparatus for measuring the H2 storage capacities of adsorbents was built. The nitrogen adsorption and H2 storage test performed on the pyrolyzed chicken feather fibers (PCFF) prepared by a previously developed two-step heat treatment method showed that the heating temperature, time, and atmosphere have a very critical impact on the pore structure of the final product, PCFF. The specific surface areas and the micropore volumes of the PCFF reached above 400 m2/g and 0.17 cm3/g STP, respectively.

PCFF demonstrated a clear H2 storage capability. The pyrolysis of the crosslinked chicken feather fibers at a temperature range of 400-450 oC for 1 h provided up to 1.5 wt% absolute and 1.2 wt% excess H2 storage at 10 bars and 77 K. The H2 storage capacities of the PCFF were greatly dependent on the time they were kept in the second step of pyrolysis. Most importantly, the density of H2 inside the PCFF pores was calculated to be higher than liquid H2 density at 77K (normal boling point of H2=22 K).


PCFF has promising adsorbent properties and is considered to be a viable candidate as an H2 storage material for mobile applications. The high packing density of H2 in the micropores of the PCFF showed that the pore structure is suitable for efficient H2 storage applications. Process development is still necessary, however, in order to increase the number of these pores on the material and reach the official targets of the Department of Energy (DOE).

Microporous, high surface area fibers were obtained when a box furnace was used. Contrary to the box furnace results, performing the sample preparation in a completely air-free sealed environment in a tube furnace yielded non-porous fibers, demonstrating that O2 plays an important role in the pyrolysis mechanism of the CFF. Oxygen's role in the two-step pyrolysis might improve the storage capacities of the PCFF further.

Proposed Phase II Objectives and Strategies:

There is no greenhouse gas emission in the sustainable H2-based energy cycle. The combustion of H2 results in only water. Water can be converted into H2 by electrolysis, using sustainable energy sources such as wind, sun, biomass, or geothermal energy. The bottlenecks in this system are problems related to the efficient and adequate production of the sustainable energy, the durability of the fuel cells that convert H2 into energy, and the energy efficient storage of H2 in the cars. The adsorbent materials investigated to solve the H2 storage problem in general could not reach DOE’s system targets although some important steps were taken towards efficient storage.

Instead of using highly ordered nano-structural materials, we simply tried to use an agricultural waste, chicken feathers as a precursor material and obtained a high surface area carbon-nitrogen based fiber. The figure below clearly highlights the scope of Phase I and Phase II and the role of PCFF in the sustainable H2 energy cycle. In Phase I of the P3 sustainable design competition, the development of a novel adsorbent material for H2 storage was presented in detail. Important information on the processing limits of the pyrolysis of chicken feather fibers also was obtained.

Phase II of the P3 project will focus on the reinforcement of the H2 storage properties of PCFF along with attempts to scale up the PCFF production such that a prototype H2 storage tank can be built and tested. In particular, the effect of O2 flow during pyrolysis on the H2 storage capacities and microporosity of final product, PCFF, will be investigated. In addition, other H2 storage target requirements such as cycle life, safety, charge, and discharge will be tested. In this challenging project, the experience of the ACRES (Affordable Composites from Renewable Sources) group and the CCM (Center of Composite Materials) at the University of Delaware will be extremely beneficial.

At the end of the project, a functioning pilot storage tank made from soybeans and flax fiber will be produced by the ACRES group in the CCM . Our aim is to reach 4 wt% H2 storage at liquid nitrogen temperature at lower than 40 bars. The storage tank will be capable of storing hydrogen reversibly to achieve a driving range of at least 300 miles without refueling. The maximum cost of the storage system is expected to be between $200 and $400, including the raw material and process utility costs.

The information and the outcomes gained from this project will be shared with students at the University of Delaware through two classes (Green Engineering and Bio-based Materials) in the Chemical Engineering Department, which cover sustainability topics.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 3 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Keratin, chicken feather fibers, hydrogen storage, adsorption, bio-based materials, pyrolysis, sustainable energy, crosslinking, heat treatment,

Relevant Websites:

ACRES Group Web Page: EPA

13th Annual Green Chemistry and Engineering Conference Presentation: EPA