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A Step Up

UC San Diego scientists create the world's first biodegradable shoe.

Sustainable sneakers.
Professor Stephen Mayfield holds the first biodegradable shoe.

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This story was published in the Fall 2022 issue of UC San Diego Magazine

Three UC San Diego professors have gained a foothold in the business of sustainable footwear. After six years of research and experimentation, Stephen Mayfield, a molecular biology professor at UC San Diego, along with partners Michael Burkart and Robert Pomeroy from the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, have launched the world’s first biodegradable shoe through the company Blueview.

What began as a project to turn algae into fuel shifted into a quest to develop high-performance biodegradable polyurethane foams or shoe soles. Given that petroleum comes from algae—it’s just fossil algae oil—and plastics come from petroleum, the question became: Why not make plastics directly from algae oil?

Professor Stephen Mayfield
Professor Stephen Mayfield

The group set out to make a shoe that was 100% biodegradable, which required developing a 3D-knit sneaker upper constructed using material made entirely from plant fibers. When the shoes have outlived their usefulness, the polyurethane shoe soles, known as Soleic Foam, along with the knit uppers, will fully biodegrade in compost bins, soil or even in the ocean—a big improvement over rubber soles that stick around (underground) for centuries.

We spoke to Mayfield, who also serves as CEO of Blueview, about his inspiration and the importance of spreading sustainability through the business world.

1. How has your work been informed by your experience as a surfer?

Almost every beach in the world, no matter how remote, is now covered with plastic trash. We decided to tackle the problem of ocean plastic trash and see if we could make something that could positively impact that with biodegradable plastics.

2. What is your hope for the success of these shoes?

If we can make our shoes the top-selling shoes in the world, every single brand will switch to biodegradable materials. Think about the car companies switching to electric cars—they only made the change after Tesla looked like it might put them out of business.

3. Do you have any advice for science-minded people who want to get involved with sustainability in the business world?

Sustainability must be the future of every business. If we don’t switch to sustainable products and practices, the future on this planet is not something any of us will want to experience.

Learn more about Blueview at

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