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Biobased Polymers of the Future - Poultry Industry Waste valorisation

PhD project title

Biobased Polymers of the Future - Poultry Industry Waste valorisation

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

With increasing popularity of poultry meat coupled with technological advances in production processes, the poultry industry is one of the largest and fastest growing in the agri-food sector worldwide. Production has increased dramatically over the past decade with 20 billion more chickens being processed in 2016, compared to 2006 [49]. This has resulted in a huge increase in the volume of waste in the form of litter, blood, feathers, bone, eggshells and chicken paws.

Building on a previous poultry waste valorisation programme at QUB, the academic team, in collaboration with Moy Park, have identified an opportunity to redefine poultry blood, paws and wing-tipsfrom waste streams to lucrative by-products.

Collagen Recovery from Chicken Paws - Collagen is a biodegradable and biocompatible polymer, used in a variety of applications from use as a biomaterial additive (assisting the seeding and attachment of cells), as biopolymeric based natural casings in various applications in food industry drug delivery, enzyme immobilization and advanced biomedical. The economic value of chicken feet, therefore, can be increased immensely through the development of collagen extraction protocols. 

Albumin Recovery from Poultry Blood - With regards to blood recovered from abattoirs, due to its nutritional content, it has found application in both the agricultural (land spreading, low value animal feed) and food (dietary supplements, black pudding etc.) industry increasing the incidence of salmonella outbreaks and bovine spongiform encephalopathy, due to feeding animals with feedstock of animal origin, has, according to Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (DEFRA), created fear and confusion, resulting in the reduction or voluntary termination of this feeding practice. As a consequence, the demand for blood has fallen and there is a growing awareness that the majority of slaughterhouse blood is now being treated as ‘waste’ resulting in containment in holding tanks or dumping in landfill sites further contributing to the environmental concerns. Within blood there is a plethora of commercially valuable compounds and, in addition, it represents a valuable source of protein. Compositionally, albumin is the most abundant of these, accounting for 50% of the total protein present and 4% of the total weight. Researchers have commented on the potential of human, bovine and porcine albumin along with egg white albumen (a mixture of albumin and water) as avenues for investigation in the development of bioplastics and biomaterials citing, in particular, strong antimicrobial activity derived from the presence of lysozyme, an enzyme that utilises a lysis reaction to kill cells.

This project brings together diverse academic expertise in polymer packaging and future alternatives (Dr Eoin Cunningham), manufacturing optimisation (energy pathways and carbon footprint analysis, Dr Beatrice Smyth) and pr. 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

Petroleum polymer alternatives, packaging innovation, carbon footprint, energy, waste valorisation

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.

Supervisor Information



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

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

Third Supervisor: Dr Gary Laverty                                                                       School: Pharmacy

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

What costs are associated with the project and how will they be funded? NB: The COFUND research grant supports the financing of student fees and the salary of the ‘Fellows.’ Additional overheads (e.g. specialist training, equipment) are not provided for

All costs, covering the items listed below, are covered by the industrial sponsorship provided by Moy Park (Armagh, UK):


Lab consumables.

Polymer Processing Research Centre (Machining, Technician time etc.)

Travel, Accomodation and subsidence for dissemination activities.


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;

  1. Moy Park Limited will contribute £30,000 over the 3 year project
  2. Moy Park Limited will contribute waste stream materials as required to support the project.
  3. 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.
  4. Moy Park Limited will provide access to primary and secondary company facilities, and student training in the use of company technology if required.
  5. Moy Park Limited will facilitate a placement with the PhD student.


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 Polymers