Algae-based flip-flops coming soon to a beach near you

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In San Diego, a trio of professors at the University of California have created a prototype flip-flop made from algae-derived polymeric polyols.

Founded by Stephen Mayfield, Michael Burkart and Robert Pomeroy, Algenesis Materials aims to eventually produce 100% renewable, 100% biodegradable “flops.” So far, they have managed to produce prototypes of the barbecue-and-beach mainstay with about 50% renewable content. They are also currently assessing how biodegradable they are.

Flip-flops are traditionally made from petroleum-based polyurethanes. Mayfield, who is also director of the California Center for Algae Biotechnology and founder of failed algal biofuel company Sapphire Energy, says flip-flops are a “throwaway product” that ends up in rivers, oceans, and landfills. Unfortunately, footwear category is also ubiquitous; according to xconomy, about 3 billion flip-flops are manufactured annually. “These are the shoes of a fisherman and a farmer,” Mayfield says. “This is the No. 1 shoe in India, the No. 1 shoe in China, and the No. 1 shoe in Africa.” To be commercially viable in emerging markets, the flops would have to cost about $3 per pair.