Innovation That Matters

| Photo source Algenesis

Researchers unveil a new microplastic-free plastic


A bioplastic has been shown to break down in the environment without leaving behind microplastics

Spotted: Most people are aware of microplastics – the tiny, nearly indestructible fragments shed from everyday plastic products. Most are also aware that microplastics are now found everywhere on earth – from the air to drinking water, food, and inside the human body. These plastic particles can take between 100 and 1,000 years to break down, meaning they will continue to accumulate in the environment at a rapid rate.

Algenesis Materials, which spun out of the University of California San Diego, has developed an algae-based polymer that breaks down in just seven months. The company hopes the material can be used in place of a wide range of petroleum-based thermoplastic polyurethanes (TPUs) across various industries.

Recent research, published in Nature Scientific Reports by UC San Diego researchers in collaboration with Algenesis, has confirmed the material breaks down under home composting conditions at the microparticle level – meaning it does not leave behind microplastics. To conduct the study, the scientists generated microplastics from Algenesis’ bio-based TPU using a belt sander and found that bacteria, such as those living in soil, would eat the plastic and break it down into harmless nutrients and CO2.

However, creating a sustainable alternative to petroleum-based plastics is only part of the equation. Further challenges come when using the new material on existing manufacturing equipment and Algenesis is making progress in this area as well. The company is currently partnering with several companies to make products such as coated fabrics and cell phone cases using the new bio-polymers.

Last year, Algenesis raised $5 million (around €4.7 million) in a seed funding round led by First Bight Ventures, a Texas-based fund dedicated to advancing synthetic biology companies, and Circulate Capital, an environmental impact investor, among others. The round followed a US $5 million (around €4.7 million) grant from the US Department of Energy to scale up the production of biobased isocyanates.

Attempts to eliminate microplastics from the environment are gaining ground. They include innovations such as an artificial worm gut and plastic packaging that dissolves in water.

Written By: Lisa Magloff




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