Skip to main content

The secret to making the hydrogen car viable could be…chicken feathers?

This strange relationship could fight climate change in more ways than one

A group of red and brown chickens feeding in a chicken coop.
Creisi / Pixabay

Chickens may help surmount one of the significant challenges with hydrogen cars. Sales volumes of battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) and hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) increase yearly. However, that’s not the case with electric cars that use hydrogen fuel cells to run electric motors.

Infrastructure issues are the most significant barrier for hydrogen cars. The Toyota Mirai and Hyundai Nexo are the only hydrogen cars sold in the U.S. Even more limiting, you can only buy those vehicles if you live in southern and northern California due to limited hydrogen refueling infrastructure elsewhere. In late 2022, BMW began producing a hydrogen fuel cell car, the iX5 Hydrogen SUV, but only in limited quantities. Hydrogen cars and hydrogen refueling infrastructure are an automotive version of “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”

Close up photo of BMW iX5 Hydrogen fuel cell engine. underneath the hood.

How chickens can help hydrogen car production

Chickens can’t help with hydrogen storage and refueling, but their feathers may help in other ways. Two additional challenges to hydrogen car proliferation are the high cost of fuel cell vehicle manufacturing and the use of toxic materials in the materials that filter hydrogen atomic particles in fuel cells.

A report in the American Chemical Society’s Applied Materials & Interfaces journal explained how researchers at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore and ETH Zurich in Switzerland developed a method that uses chicken feather waste to create hydrogen filters.

Traditional fuel cells use a semipermeable membrane to filter the atomic particles in hydrogen. The membrane blocks electrons in hydrogen while it allows protons to pass through. The blocked negatively charged electrons follow a conductive pathway, a positively charged cathode, to produce electricity.

There are two problems with the conventional semipermeable membranes. They are expensive to produce and made from acidic or alkaline polymer materials that contain toxic chemicals commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.”

The scientists from Singapore and Switzerland created a semipermeable membrane for fuel cells using the keratin protein from chicken feathers. Keratin is a class of proteins that includes the proteins that help form human hair, nails, and skin. An important point is that keratins are not toxic.

The research study explains how the scientists converted keratin from chicken feathers into amyloid fibrils by heat treatments. Amyloid fibrils are insoluble fibers that resist degradation. The chemists then used an oxidation method to convert the fibrils to proton conductivity, with resultant electron blockage. The material could then be used in the core hydrogen fuel cell process to generate electricity.

White and brown chickens in a commercial poulty farm taking a break outside.
Stux / Pixabay

The scientists demonstrated that using chicken feathers to create filters for fuel cells can be a win-win-win. Processing chicken feathers instead of burning them as agricultural waste prevents the release of CO2 and poisonous gases into the atmosphere. Using oxidated amyloid fibrils from chicken feather keratin to create filtering membranes is less expensive than making polymer membranes, and it avoids the presence of the toxic forever chemicals associated with polymer membranes.

So, everyone wins…except for the chickens.

Editors' Recommendations

Bruce Brown
Digital Trends Contributing Editor Bruce Brown is a member of the Smart Homes and Cars teams. He also writes technology news…
Mercedes Benz was just granted approval for turquoise headlights on self-driving cars – here’s why
Why some Mercedez Benz cars have turquoise headlights
2024 Mercedes EQS equipped with Drive Pilot and turquoise lights left front three-quarter view in front of office buildings.

If you're wondering about progress with self-driving cars, look for the turquoise lights. Mercedes-Benz recently received approval from California and Nevada to use turquoise marker lights to alert other drivers to the proximity of automated vehicles. The permissions differ between the two states, but the color could become the standard as autonomous cars proliferate.

The approval in California allows Mercedes-Benz to test turquoise lights on vehicles with autonomous driving on freeways. California's permit is valid for two years. In Nevada, the approval will enable Mercedes to use turquoise marker lists starting with model year 2026 EQS and S-Class production vehicles with Mercedes Drive Pilot. The Nevada program does not have a time limit, but the approval is subject to change by legislation.

Read more
New Lucid Gravity EV has ‘up to’ 440 miles range, makes a strong case in the crowded SUV market
440 miles of range from Lucid is pretty incredible in an SUV
Lucid Gravity SUV driving on a road

Lucid Motors doesn’t just make luxury electric vehicles, but it also holds the record for designing the longest-range electric car. Its magnum opus is the Lucid Air Dream Edition with an EPA estimated range of up to 520 miles — and so far, no electric vehicle has come close to beating that record. Beyond that, Lucid has been working on the Air Sapphire, which is expected to be quicker than a Bugatti Chiron.

Just when you think Lucid Motors couldn’t pull another rabbit out of a hat, it unveiled the Lucid Gravity SUV with an exceptional range. According to Lucid Motors, the Lucid Gravity SUV is expected to have a range "in excess of 440 miles." If it delivers on that promise, the Lucid Gravity SUV could hold the record for the second longest-range EV alongside the Chevy Silverado EV.

Read more
Hyundai and Amazon team up for online car sales (and no, you can’t get your car via Prime)
Hyundai and Amazon just made it super easy to buy a new car
2024 Hyundai Ioniq 6 parked outside.

If you shop on Amazon for guitar strings, luggage, and electronics, how do you feel about buying your next car on the mega e-commerce platform? At the 2023 Los Angeles Auto Show, Amazon and Hyundai Motor Company jointly announced an online sales collaboration beginning in 2024. Other car brands come later, but Hyundai will be the first brand you can buy on Amazon.

The new strategic partnership has three facets: online vehicle sales, cloud services, and integrating Alexa in future Hyundais. Amazon will begin online sales of Hyundai models on Amazon Web Services (AWS) will be Hyundai's preferred provider of cloud services for the vehicle manufacturer's digital transformation. The two companies will work together to integrate Alexa voice response into Hyundai's driver infotainment and vehicle management system.
Find my car
Amazon's new partnership with Hyundai doesn't cut out auto dealerships. Dealers will be able to list on Amazon vehicles currently available for purchase.

Read more