Algenesis Joins Fight Against Microplastic Pollution

Seagriculture EU 2024
Algenesis Microplastic Pollution

Algenesis’ researchers demonstrated that tiny plastic particles from their new TPU can rapidly biodegrade under home composting conditions.

The University of California San Diego (UC San Diego) and Algenesis Corporation, an advanced material science company originating from UC San Diego, has announced the publication of a seminal scientific study in the fight against microplastic pollution titled “Rapid biodegradation of microplastics generated from bio-based thermoplastic polyurethane.”

Published in Nature’s Scientific Reports, the study is a collaborative effort among researchers from Algenesis and UC San Diego, including Marco Allemann, Marissa Tessman, Jaysen Reindel, Gordon Scofield, Payton Evans, Robert Pomeroy, Michael Burkart, Stephen Mayfield, and Ryan Simkovsky.

This publication showcases the development of a bio-based and biodegradable thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) that has been shown to significantly reduce the environmental and health impacts of plastics and addresses microplastic pollution, one of the most pressing environmental challenges of our time. This innovative new material is the latest product from the Soleic® brand polyurethane materials made by Algenesis, which will be available this year in applications like coatings and injectable plastics.

Recent studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine and Toxicological Sciences have demonstrated the presence of microplastics in human placentas and heart plaques. The presence of these particles is a direct threat to human health, and they are associated with increased mortality. These findings point to an urgent need to remove existing microplastics from the environment, while simultaneously adopting sustainable materials that do not produce these persistent microplastics.

Algenesis’ latest development of a biobased TPU directly addresses the microplastics crisis due to its biodegradability. The company demonstrated in its study that tiny plastic particles from this new TPU can rapidly biodegrade under home composting conditions.

For the study, they purposely generated microplastics from the TPU material using a belt sander, and then studied how these particles biodegrade in the natural environment. They discovered that even common soil microorganisms can grow on the microplastics and use them as their sole carbon source. These bacteria eat these transient plastics and turn them into harmless nutrients and carbon dioxide. This work is a step towards reducing pollution by creating material from natural plant sources (instead of petroleum) and ensuring that these materials won’t leave lasting microplastic waste in the environment.

The study further illustrates the material’s practical applications by the creation of TPU-coated cotton fabrics and injection molded phone cases, both of which meet physical specifications for commercial products. Both applications underwent rigorous testing, showing clear structural degradation and significant biofilm formation, indicating real-world biodegradability.

Co-founded by a trio of esteemed UCSD scientists — Stephen Mayfield, Michael Burkart, and Robert “Skip” Pomeroy — Algenesis has been at the forefront of sustainable material innovation, with previous developments including foams that biodegrade in compost, soil, and marine environments. These foams have been incorporated into shoes with their direct-to-consumer brand Blueview® Footwear, and in products developed via their business-to-business materials brand, Soleic®, including coated fabric made by polymer experts Trelleborg and phone cases made by RhinoShield, that will be available later this year.

Algenesis’ partnership with Trelleborg emphasizes the material’s versatility and potential to disrupt industries ranging from aerospace applications to outdoor apparel. “Trelleborg aims to develop a range of eco-friendly polymers and production processes that align with the growing demand for sustainable materials in various applications,” said Steve Brockman, Trelleborg Business Unit President.

“Our collaboration with Trelleborg enables us to bring this cutting-edge material to market, offering consumers sustainable alternatives that don’t compromise on quality or performance,” added Stephen Mayfield, CEO of Algenesis.

“RhinoShield is looking forward to teaming up with Algenesis to tackle the world’s plastic issue,” said Eric Wang, CEO of RhinoShield. “We’re equally enthusiastic about establishing sustainable standards for the phone case industry.”

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Seagriculture USA 2024
AlgaeMetrics
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