According tomedia reports, the petroleum polymers used in making human drags are vital to the durability and comfort of the popular shoes, but they are also a huge contributor to the problem of plastic pollution, which can take a long time to decompose once discarded. A team from the University of California, San Diego, who has been working on a solution to the problem, is showing a pair of algae-based human drags that are known to degrade in natural conditions for 16 weeks.
The breakthrough focused on a new type of polyurethane foam made from seaweed oil, and the team made extensive adjustments to its combination of natural and synthetic ingredients over the years. But it’s obviously a long and arduous process to produce a commercially standard-compliant footwear wear-resistant product that weighs its ability to degrade in the environment, but scientists now believe they’ve found the perfect formula.
Stephen Mayfield, the study’s author, said: “This paper shows that we have commercially degradable foams that can be biodegradable in the natural environment. After hundreds of formulations, we finally created a commercially specific product. The bio-content of these foams is 52%, and eventually we will reach 100%. “
Although this commercial grade foam material meets the bottom requirements of mid-soles and human drag, it has a much shorter life in the environment than conventional materials. The researchers worked with materials science start-up Algenesis to make the algae foam into human drag, and then tested the timing of the material’s decomposition.
In the tests, the researchers placed foamin in traditional compost and soil, where they degraded after 16 weeks. To ensure that the material has no toxic effects on the soil, the team tracked the molecules that the material sheds throughout the process, and they were able to identify the organisms that drive the process.
“We extracted foam-degrading enzymes from microorganisms and showed that we could use them to decombine these polyurethane products and then identify the intermediate steps that occur during the process,” Mayfield said. We have demonstrated that we can isolate the solution products and use them to synthesize new polyurethane monomers for a ‘biocycle’. “
This not only opens the door to new plastic products that are more environmentally friendly, but also for fully recyclable plastic products. The researchers say they are now on the path to commercial production, but first need to work with their production partners to address economic problems.
The study has been published in Bioresource Thechinology Reports.