Biodegradable shoe soles in focus

Greetings friends, as we know bioplastics are booming, their production is increasing in an important percentage every year, and each time they find different applications in the market for these materials, we can find various alternatives for flexible packaging or rigid containers, however, there are still no sustainable alternatives for foam plastics, such as the one used in the soles of sports shoes. However, this could change in the very near future. A pioneering scientist in this area, from the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zurich, is developing a method that would make it possible to obtain shoe soles and mats from organic waste.

suelas biodegradables.jpg Possible green technology for the sole of the shoes. Source: Image designed by @emiliomoron using public domain image.

According to the ETH press release, this scientist is developing a method by which biodegradable foam plastics can be made from organic waste that can be used to make shoe soles, exercise mats, toys or any product that requires this elastic and shock-absorbing capacity offered by foam plastics.

Currently this type of plastic does not have a biodegradable substitute, and must be manufactured with synthetic materials of fossil origin, which represents a great impact on the environment since these materials degrade in a few hundred years, and in addition, these materials are difficult to recycle.

The problem in finding a biodegradable substitute for synthetic foam materials is that these materials are manufactured with materials that must withstand very specific conditions during their manufacture. Conventional plastic turns into foam when a propellant is incorporated at high temperature and pressure, conditions that materials derived from plant biomass cannot withstand, making it very difficult for them to acquire the flexibility necessary to make foam.

The innovative aspect of this project is precisely the development of a new propellant that allows processing the biomass in the form of plastic at a much lower temperature and that can resist. This propellant is also completely green and is made with gas and water.

The method of manufacturing on an industrial scale is now being developed, since, for the bioplastic to be successful, it must be able to be manufactured in mass and under conditions different from those of the laboratory. But the process has the advantage of being compatible with traditional tools for making conventional foam plastic, so scientists hope that there will be no problems and it will be adopted quickly as potential customers would not need to invest in new infrastructure.

zapatos espuma.jpg Shoe soles and packing foam in the target. Source: public domain images, 1 and 2.

Although the applications for the foam plastic materials are very diverse, the scientists are looking for industrial partners who want to participate in the pilot project, and have set their sights on packaging and shoe manufacturers. Firstly because packaging is a good starting point for the entry of a new bioplastic, since large quantities of foam plastic are used to protect products, and footwear would be another potential customer given the requirements for cushioning materials for the manufacture of the shoe sole.

In conclusion, any initiative that seeks to replace synthetic plastics is welcome, but as with green technologies, it is necessary that the new material can also compete with conventional ones in price, since its cost is usually higher and in the long run this determines its implementation in most cases. On the other hand, we can find two positive points of this development, one is that it uses vegetable residues as raw material, so it does not compete with food needs in terms of useful vegetable resources, such as bioplastics made from corn or potato starch; and on the other hand, it offers an alternative for the use of a bioplastic for an application that does not have a sustainable option.

Thanks for coming by to read friends, I hope you liked the information. See you next time.

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This post has been published previously in my other blog.


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