The research team has developed polyurethane foam made from algae oil to match
The study was carried out in collaboration betweenUniversity of California, San Diego and Algenesis Materials, a fledgling materials science and technology company. The project was led by graduate student Natasha Gunawan of the laboratories of Professors Michael Burkart (Physics Division) and Stephen Mayfield (Biological Sciences Division) and Marissa Tessman from Algenesis. It is the latest in a series of recent research publications that collectively, Burkart says, offer a complete solution to the plastics problem - at least for polyurethanes (PU).
The document shows that we have foamcommercial quality that decomposes in its natural environment. After hundreds of formulations, we have finally reached a formulation that meets commercial specifications. These foams are 52% bio-based - in the end we will achieve 100%.
Stephen Mayfield, Department of Biological Sciences, University of California, San Diego
In addition to developing the correct foam formulationcommercial quality, the researchers worked with Algenesis not only to create the shoe, but also to decompose it. Scientists have clearly demonstrated that commercial products such as polyesters, bioplastics (PLA) and fossil fuel plastics (PET) can be biodegradable, but only in the context of laboratory testing or industrial composting.
Commercial grade biodegradable slippers. Credit: Stephen Mayfield, University of California, San Diego
In fact, scientists have re-developed polyurethaneswith biomonomers from scratch to meet the high demands on footwear materials, while theoretically maintaining a chemistry suitable for biodegradation. Algae turned out to be one of the monomers. It is on the basis of such materials that scientists have created special biodegradable foams as an alternative to polyurethane.
Testing the foams by dipping them into traditional compostand soil, the team found that the materials had decomposed in just 16 weeks. During the decomposition period, to account for any toxicity, the scientists measured every molecule released from the biodegradable materials. They also identified organisms that degraded the foam.
Footrest made of slippers pulled out of the mold. Credit: Stephen Mayfield, University of California, San DiegoBiodegradation of PU cubes within 12 weeks. Degradation was analyzed by A) appearance change, B) cube mass, and C) maximum force at 50% compression force deviation (CFD). Error bars show standard deviations of a sample of three measurements. For the loss of mass of compost and soil, p <0.01, and for CFD of compost and soil, p <0.01 (Table 2 in the published article). Credit: Stephen Mayfield, University of California, San Diego
Fully recyclablecommercial products are the next step in the scientists' ongoing mission to solve current problems in the production and management of plastic waste. If they are not addressed, then by 2050 this will lead to the release of 96 billion tons of plastic in landfills or into the environment.
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