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USDA Awards Grant to Develop Bio-Based Products

26 August 2005

CCM-affiliated faculty member Richard P. Wool has been awarded a four-year, $500,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to develop bio-based advanced materials.

Wool is professor of chemical engineering and director of the Affordable Composites from Renewable Resources (ACRES) program. He is also the co-author of a new book on green materials.

Wool said the grant will fund two main projects, one on the use of soy resins and chicken feathers to develop computer circuit boards in cooperation with Intel Corp. and the second on the use of chicken feathers to create high-performance, low-cost carbon fibres.

In developing soy resins and chicken feathers for use in circuit boards, Wool said the research team hopes “to make the electronics materials business a little more Earth friendly.”

Currently, the manufacture of circuit boards is petroleum based and highly energy intensive, and therefore puts a strain on the environment, Wool said. The effect of that strain is magnified by the enormous number of electronic components being manufactured worldwide.

In most cases, today's circuit boards are made of an epoxy-fibreglass composite. Wool would replace the epoxy with a biodegradable soybean oil resin and the fibreglass with chicken feathers.

The use of this technology in circuit board manufacturing would have double environmental benefits, Wool said, in the replacement of petroleum-based products with sustainable materials and in the disposal of tons of waste chicken feathers.

“It is estimated that farms generate 6 billion pounds of chicken feathers annually as a waste material,” Wool said. “They are hard to dispose of because they do not burn very well, and they can be considered a biohazard, given recent outbreaks of avian flu.”

Furthermore, Wool said he believes the circuit boards will be superior to current components because they will make use of a unique property of chicken feathers—they are hollow and, as such, allow for the very rapid movement of electronic signals.

The ACRES research group will undertake the project in cooperation with Dennis W. Prather, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering, who directs a nanoscale fabrication facility and is also affiliated with CCM.

The second part of the project will concern the carbonization of chicken feathers. “Chicken feathers do not have a great deal of strength, but you can make strong carbon fibres out of chicken feathers,” Wool said. “The feathers are unique because they remain hollow in a carbonized state, thus offering strength with reduced weight, which could be quite significant.”

Wool said the carbonized chicken feathers could have applications in a variety of manufacturing areas, particularly in the aeronautics and automotive industries.

The UD research group will collaborate with researchers from Boston University, who are developing hydrogen fuel cells.





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