Scientists from Flinders University have created a process that dissolves waste wool to produce keratin for cosmetic, pharmaceutical, and food use. They say this is a prime example of decreasing waste safely and creating useful products from present resource.

“After breakdown using a choline-chloride-urea solvent ‘melt’, the keratin nano-materials can be further refined and freeze dried to form a protein powder, to be used for a range of products ranging from wound healing in bandages to animal feedstock,” says Professor Colin Raston, South Australian Premier’s Professorial Research Fellow in Clean Technology at Flinders.

Waste wool from sheep can produce keratin for cosmetics.

Waste wool from sheep can produce keratin for cosmetics.

The study, published in the journal RSC Advances on Feb. 9, states that leftover wool after a sheep has been shorn is low-quality and even contaminated, making it unsuitable for making clothes. However, this waste is still useful to creating products that make use of keratin, the primary component of hair, feathers, and claws.

“Sheep wool is an abundant bio-material, with the wool-weaving industry worldwide discarding tonnes of low grade non-spin wool fibres every year. Our system makes use of a waste stream, deemed unsuitable for the clothing industry, to produce an additional revenue source,” researcher Dr. Ramiz Boulos explains.

“The final product would be highly useful for electro-spinning to form keratin bandages or for implantation into a hydrogel, both of which have demonstrated clear wound healing advantages,” Boulos adds.

The researchers say that advancements in technology are rising quickly. This could bring in more improvements in many fields that will make life more convenient.

Nevertheless, this also means that manufacturing costs would increase, making products expensive and inaccessible to some. Fortunately, scientists have created ways to counter this over the years, and this Flinders University development is one of them.

“The future of clean technology is rapidly growing as the cost of producing expensive substances is offset against the benefits of low-cost, efficient, and environmentally sustainable recycling processes such as this,” says Raston.