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Compostable Feather Based Biopolymer Lidding Films

PhD project title

Compostable Feather Based Biopolymer Lidding Films

Outline description, including interdisciplinary, intersectoral and international dimensions (300 words max)

Plastics are an integral part of the global economy with plastic packaging playing a pivotal role in the UK’s food distribution system aiding the prevention of food waste by protecting and extending shelf life throughout the supply chain. However, the continued use of plastic packaging has several negative implications including:

  • Reliance on CO2 producing finite fossil feedstocks; over 90% of plastics produced are derived from virgin fossil feedstocks, representing about 6% of global oil consumption.
  • Significant environmental and human health impacts; each year at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean threatening marine wildlife, this is expected to quadruple by 2050.

One major challenge is the infrastructure, or lack thereof, for recovery, reuse or ethical disposal of polymer films. The collection, separation and reprocessing of household plastic film is not widely implemented in the UK; as a consequence, end markets for the recycled material is limited. In 2011/12 only 13% of local authorities provided kerbside collections of films. Without adequate infrastructure for collection and reuse the most environmentally friendly solution is to create compostable lidding films. Feather based biopolymer films may provide a solution.

  • The following research project will aim to develop and validate compostable film lidding for the food packaging industry.
  • It will build upon a previous foundational project of feather retrieval and pre-processing.
  • It will aim to optimise the extrusion of packaging gauge (<200 micron) film using emerging biobased polymers as processing aids but will aim to maximise the feather content.
  • It will validate functional properties (barrier, mechanical, puncture etc.) keeping in mind applications for poultry, beef and fish.
  • It will validate the ability to compost using industrial aerobic composting techniques supplied by New World Products.

This project brings together diverse academic expertise in polymer packaging and future alternatives (Dr Eoin Cunningham) and manufacturing optimisation (energy pathways and carbon footprint analysis, Dr Beatrice Smyth). The academic support will be strongly complimented with industrial experience provided by Moy Park who have been at the forefront of packaging innovations for the last few decades. The successful candidate will gain insights into frontline perception on packaging innovations, structure, materials and sustainability. For info recent projects have included:


European Institute of Technology (EIT) funded “Consumer and Manufacturing Driven Alternative Packaging Solutions from Agri-Food Waste Streams

EPSRC Funded “Advancing Creative Circular Economies for Plastics via Technological-Social Transitions” (ACCEPT Transitions EP/S025545/1)

Key words/descriptors

Feather based biopolymers, Compostable Packaging, packaging innovation, carbon footprint, energy

Fit to CITI-GENS theme(s)

In recent years, as countries have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions, plastic has taken over as the “poster boy” of environmental issues. Efforts are being made to quantify the scale of the problem, but recent estimates put the amount of plastic waste at over 6 billion metric tons per annum. At the current rate of production, this is unsustainable, and the negative environmental effects of releasing plastic into the environment are well-documented. This proposed research supports the core ideal of the CITIGENS programme driving ethical innovation in packaging production. It falls within:


  • Advanced Manufacturing & Creative Industries.
  • Moy Park Limited will contribute £30,000 over the 3-year project
  • Moy Park Limited will also offer support in terms of staff time from its technical, engineering consumer insight teams., including participation in quarterly review meetings and annual reviews of research progress.
  • Moy Park Limited will provide access to primary and secondary company facilities, and student training in the use of company technology if required.
  • Moy Park Limited will facilitate a placement with the PhD student.

Supervisor Information



First Supervisor: Dr Eoin Cunningham                                                                School: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Second Supervisor: Dr Beatrice Smyth                                                               School: Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Third Supervisor:   Matt Harris (Head of Packaging Innovation)                    Company: Moy Park Ltd.

Name of non-HEI partner(s)

Moy Park Ltd (Armagh, UK)

Contribution of non-HEI partner(s) to the project:



For the proposal, Moy Park is committed to working with Queen’s University to ensure the success of this project, subject to terms and conditions of contract which are to be agreed in due course, in particular offer support in relation to the undernoted;


. Please describe the profile of the non-HEI partner and the nature of the relationship.    


Moy Park Ltd is Northern Ireland’s largest private sector company. It is one of the top ten global poultry producers employing 12,000 people across 14 European Sites. The provision of poultry products across Europe brings with it the creation of significant amounts of waste in the form of chicken litter, bone, feather and eggshells. Moreover, with a strong ethos of extended producer responsibility Moy Park is also interested in its packaging and potential impacts on the environment. The relationship with Moy Park started in Sept 2013; Dr Cunningham met with the Management team in an effort to develop innovative solutions to Moy Park’s waste challenges. The company views this project as a great opportunity to continue our strategic alliance with QUB, IGFS and Dr Cunningham.

Research centre


Polymer Processing Research Centre

School of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Subject area

Biobased Polymer Development

Academic Requirements


Applicants should hold or expect to hold a 2.1 Hons (or equivalent) degree in a relevant discipline such as Mechanical Engineering, Materials Science or in a Psychology related programme. Students who have a 2.2 honours degree and a Master’s degree may also be considered, but the School reserves the right to shortlist for interview only those applicants who have demonstrated high academic attainment to date.

It is essential that the candidate has an enthusiastic attitude towards undertaking research in the field of polymer alternatives and is willing to travel to both academic and industrial collaborators for placements, training courses and dissemination activities.