Making Flip-flops out of Algae at UCSD

Elizabeth McCauley of reports on a group of scientists who are making flip-flops out of algae. Researchers say the footwear is 100% biodegradable and could reduce plastic pollution.

Stephen Mayfield, Director, California Center for Algae Biotechnology and Founder of Algenesis Materials heads the team at UC San Diego that has turned algae and plants into these newly designed, fashionable,100% biodegradable flip-flops. He says the sandals aren’t yet available in stores, but his researchers have founded a startup to make that happen. They hope this development will add to a future of eco-conscious clothing.

The research was a collaboration between UC San Diego and startup company Algenesis Materials — a materials science and technology company. The project was co-led by graduate student Natasha Gunawan from the labs of professors Michael Burkart (Division of Physical Sciences) and Stephen Mayfield (Division of Biological Sciences), and by Marissa Tessman from Algenesis.

According to Dr. Burkart, the discovery of this foam offers an important step toward the solution to the plastics problem — at least for polyurethanes. The findings are the latest in a series of recent research publications focusing on algae applications as replacements for non-biodegradable plastics.

“The paper shows that we have commercial-quality foams that biodegrade in the natural environment,” said Dr. Mayfield. “After hundreds of formulations, we finally achieved one that met commercial specifications. These foams are 52 percent bio-content — eventually we’ll get to 100 percent.”

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