Lab-manufactured leather is a long way off but University of Delaware 'green' chemist Richard Wool is pursuing a method to create a new kind of breathable leather from chicken feathers, flax and soybean oil. For the past 20 years, Wool has used these unlikely materials to make computer processors to tractor parts, and now his sights are on an eco-leather to minimise environmental impact as trends accelerate to find alternatives to natural leather.
The main difference with Wool's concept, called Eco-leather Corp., and synthetic alternatives backed by the might of Silicon Valley is that it can be produced on an industrial scale and cater to the fashion and footwear industries. He makes bio-composites using aerospace techniques of heat and pressure to process the discarded, downy fibers from chicken feathers mixed with natural fibers and plant oil resins to make durable shoe soles.
So far, Eco-leather Corp. is already collaborating with Nike and Puma to develop an athletic shoe created from non-toxic materials, and prototypes are already being rigourously tested.
The overall goal, says Wool, is to provide leather alternatives using what he calls the 'waste stream materials' of chicken feather fibers that would otherwise be sent to a landfill or rendered down to make certain animal feed -- both at enormous cost.