Can chicken feathers smooth over Winnipeg's pothole problem?

After winning top prize at a science fair, Quebec grade nine student David Ballas thinks he knows a way out of Winnipeg's pothole rut: Chicken feathers.

14-year-old student says chicken feathers could be a cheap way to prevent potholes

David Ballas, a Grade nine student at West Island College in Quebec, consulted his father and two chemists before going ahead with his project studying the effects of chicken feathers on asphalt. (CBC)

Potholes, the sworn enemy of drivers damage cars, cause nasty coffee spills and cost Manitobans millions of dollars.

The City of Winnipeg spent $2.6 million on pothole repairs in 2014 and since March 1, Winnipeg's 311 line has received more than 400 complaints.

After winning top prize at a science fair, Quebec grade nine student David Ballas thinks he knows a way out of our rut: Chicken feathers.

Ballas knows the life cycle of a pothole.

"What happens is the water passes through a seam, and then once it freezes up it lifts up the asphalt and creates a pothole," he said in an interview on CBC's Information Radio with Marcy Markusa.

But to prevent them, Ballas says, he needed to find a substance that would stop water from entering the asphalt in the first place. One that is cheap, and also waterproof.

“I went on the Internet and I was searching what products in Quebec specifically are being wasted...and are not being used,” he said.

That search led him to chicken feathers. 

Chicken feathers virtually worthless

Chicken feathers, like oil, plastics and rubber boots, are hydrophobic, which means they repel water. 

Ballas ordered a box for $10, then got to experimenting.

“I took two per cent of the chicken feathers and I mixed it with an asphalt mixture,” he said. 

“I made one [sample] with the chicken feathers and one regular type of road.”

Ballas dunked the two road surfaces in 500 millimetres of water and measured the amount of water that permeated each sample.

The chicken feathers made a difference.

“The results showed that more than half of the water went through on the regular asphalt and only 6 millimetres went through on my asphalt,” he said.

Ballas sees far-reaching implications for his research. 

“The new type of mixture of chicken feathers and asphalt that I made is a more efficient and cost-effective way to redo all the roads,” he said.

But will the City of Winnipeg seriously consider Ballas' research? 

“We are always looking for opportunities where technology can be supported by scientific facts," a spokesperson wrote.

Listen to David Ballas​' full interview on CBC's Information Radio on Wedensday at 7:10 a.m. CT.


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