Three UC San Diego professors, Stephen Mayfield, Michael Burkart and Robert Pomeroy, created the world’s first shoe using fully biodegradable materials. The team launched its footwear products on Blueview Shoes after a six-year research and experimentation project on a specific date.
The company advertises that the shoes are the world’s first biodegradable shoes, made entirely from vegetable oils that can be composted over time instead of being sent to landfills. The shoe aims to reduce carbon emissions and fight climate change.
The shoe is 65% renewable and its materials can be reused, but it is also fully biodegradable and can be fully composted in six months. With the shoe priced at $135, the website also offers free shipping and 30-day returns.
The company’s website says the shoe was created as a result of large amounts of toxic waste and plastics being dumped into the ocean. The process of making such a shoe began over six years ago when Mayfield started his own algae-to-fuel project to substitute fossil fuels for plant-based fuel, as shown on the UCSD News Center website.
Mayfield is a professor in the biology department, specializing in the synthesis of green algae and its uses as fuel. Once Mayfield and his team, consisting of Burkart and Pomeroy, were able to create plant-based fuel, they focused their attention on creating a fully compostable plant-based shoe. They first created flip flops using the moss they had developed from green algae.
“We started making flip flops with the seaweed material,” Burkart said. “It was important that our products were not only renewable, but also biodegradable because we saw a huge problem with plastic waste in the ocean…and we didn’t want to contribute to the problem.”
After succeeding with the flip flops, Burkart said the team then built a company to scale up, creating a more widely usable closed-toe biodegradable shoe made of the same foam, with a hemp shoe upper and cellulose.
“They’re very durable, they wear out like any shoe, but once you’re done with them, put them in compost and they’ll biodegrade completely within six months,” Burkart said.
Burkart, a professor in the chemistry department who runs his own lab in a natural product discovery and biosynthesis project, served as lead scientist for the project. He played an important role in the creation of the shoe itself as well as in the development of the company.
“These are all technologies that we developed here in our labs at UCSD,” Burkart said. ”In the company, I lead the development of materials and the formulation [as well as] scaling up… how we were able to go from a few grams in the lab to a [much larger] ladder in a chemical manufacturing plant.
Another key person in creating the product is Pomeroy from the biochemistry department. After joining the department in 2007, he collaborated with students in the manufacture of biofuels and plant-based polyurethanes. After being involved in the initial formulations, Pomeroy’s current role in the project is to apply analytical chemistry to ensure the quality of the product produced in the laboratory.
“My role in mentoring the undergraduate and masters students who work with me in the lab is to focus on quality control of raw materials and then monitoring the chemical fate of our products as they undergo chemical and biological degradation,” Pomeroy said.
Pomeroy’s aspirations for creating the shoe revolve around showing the world that it is possible to create products that are better for the planet while maintaining the quality desired today.
Although many challenges arise when creating the shoe, one challenge Pomeroy faced was with the sales aspect of the shoe, in a term called “greenwashing” where the authenticity of the product must be proven.
“[A challenge with the shoe was] the wrong message associated with an advertising strategy known as “greenwashing,” Pomeroy said. “So while we’ve made a great product, now we need to communicate to everyone the true value of our product versus others that claim to be eco-friendly.”
Many of the company’s employees are former students, and Burkart said that since research is still ongoing and materials are constantly being developed, there are plenty of opportunities in his lab as well as the Mayfield and Pomeroy labs. to get students involved.
Those interested in learning more about Blueview can visit here. Students can also contact the lead teachers involved to discuss the project in more detail.
Photo courtesy of UCSD San Diego News Center.