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Nike, Puma in Talks to Develop Bio-Leather Shoes from Chicken Feathers

Eco-leather Corp., a company that aims to commercialize breathable leather made from chicken feathers, is collaborating with Nike and Puma on developing an athletic shoe made out of non-toxic materials, Fast Company reports.

Eco-leather is the brainchild of University of Delaware chemist Richard Wool, who makes bio-based leather using techniques developed by aerospace engineers to turn chicken feathers, combined with natural fibers and plant oil resins, into shoe soles. Wool has also developed a bio-based foam that can replace petroleum-based polyurethane, Fast Company says.

The company’s goal is to produce alternatives to the leather production process, which, according to the nonprofit Blacksmith Institute, is a top toxic threat, using cancer-causing chemicals and toxic heavy metals including chromium.

If using chicken feathers would create a more sustainable leather production process, Fast Company asks, where would the feathers come from? “There about 6 billion tons of these chicken feather fibers that are a waste stream material, and a bit of a nuisance to the chicken processing companies,” Wool tells the magazine. “They’re either sent to a landfill — burning them isn’t a very good option for them — or they’re rendered down to make certain kinds of animal feed, because the current protein can have some food value.”

Using chicken feathers will also help agribusiness firms cut waste disposal costs, Wool says, adding that a company offered him 2 billion pounds of the material for free so it didn’t have to pay for expensive feather disposal.

Wool, along with chemical giants Dow Chemical, Cargill and Life Technologies, won the 2013 President Green Chemistry Challenge award for developing chemicals safer for public health and the environment. In the academic category, Wool was recognized for creating several materials from less toxic and renewable biobased feedstocks such as vegetable oils, chicken feathers and flax that can be used as adhesives, composites, foams, and even circuit boards and as a leather substitute.

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