‘We have redeveloped polyurethanes with bio-based monomers from scratch to meet high material specifications for shoes.’
Researchers from University California San Diego have collaborated with start-up company, Algenesis Materials, to develop a polyurethane foam made from algae oil. The new material meets the commercial specifications for midsole shoes and the foot-bed of flip-flops. The work has been published in Bioresource Technology Reports. Flip-flops are said to account ‘for a troubling percentage of plastic waste that ends up in landfills, on seashores and in oceans.’
In addition to devising the right formulation for the commercial-quality foam, the researchers worked with Algenesis to not only make the shoes, but to degrade them as well. The customised foam was immersed in traditional compost and soil and the material was found to biodegrade after 16 weeks. To account for any toxicity, a team of scientists measured every molecule shed from the biodegradable material as well as identifying the organisms that degraded the foams.
‘We have redeveloped polyurethanes with bio-based monomers from scratch to meet high material specifications for shoes, while keeping the chemistry sustainable, in theory, so the shoes would be able to biodegrade,’ said Stephen Mayfield, Director California Centre for Biotechnology, Co-director Food & Fuel for the 21st Century Distinguished Professor.
Work on the biodegradable material has led to the establishment of the Centre for Renewable Materials at University California San Diego. The centre has three major goals: Development of renewable sustainable monomers made from algae and using them for a range of applications, creating synthetic biology platforms and understanding the biodegradation of renewable polymers.