Truly circular: California researchers develop algae-based flip flop

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In California, researchers at the University of California San Diego, in collaboration with Algenesis Materials, have produced flip flops made from algae. The scientists, who published their work in a recent issue of Bioresource Technology Reports, used algae oil to produce polyurethane foams that meet material specs for both shoe soles and flip-flops.

“The paper shows that we have commercial-quality foams that biodegrade in the natural environment,” says professor Stephen Mayfield, who co-led the project with graduate student Natasaha Gunawan and professor Michael Burkart. “After hundreds of formulations, we finally achieved one that met commercial specifications. These foams are 52 percent biocontent—eventually we’ll get to 100 percent.”

The team also made sure the flip flops would degrade.  “We redeveloped polyurethanes with biobased monomers from scratch to meet the high material specifications for shoes, while keeping the chemistry suitable, in theory, so the shoes would be able to biodegrade,” Mayfield added.  When immersed in traditional compost and soil, the material broke down after just 16 weeks.