Biobased materials, particularly in the thorny realm of bioplastics, are a polarizing subject. But for as many systemic kinks that their management lays bare, the slew of potential long-term benefits to swapping out petroleum-based products for plant-based alternatives is hard to ignore.
While sugar cane and corn are popular feedstocks, their frequent reliance on synthetic fertilizers, the use of arable land for non-food crops and propensity for monoculture don’t always make biobased materials the most environment-friendly option. Accordingly, a growing number of materials scientists and manufacturers are turning from land to sea in search of more sustainable biomass feedstocks.
Consider algae, an umbrella term for a group of seaweeds, kelps, and other photosynthetic eukaryotes. They have high yields and short cultivation times, plus the potential to sequester carbon dioxide in the process. While algae have received attention for their potential to displace fossil fuels as an energy source, their applications in packaging and other products are beginning to gain momentum.
One example is Loliware, a company manufacturing seaweed-based flexible films, pulps and other alternatives to single-use plastic. Then there’s Algix, a company that is creating an algae-blended material it calls Bloom, which can be used for the soles of shoes. At the moment, Algix works with an impressive list of brands including Native Shoes, Toms, Adidas, and Merrell.
For us, the big takeaway is that algae can be used for much more than just the next biofuel.