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Algae Pollution Finds New Life as Footwear With Algix’s Bloom Technology

Is green the new black? Algix, a Mississippi startup that turns algae into footwear, certainly thinks so.

The company dredges ponds and lakes across the United States and Asia—particularly those at risk for algal overload because of rises in global temperature—and transforms the harvested biomass into closed-cell performance foam for insoles, midsoles and outsoles.

The process directly utilizes the algae with “no extraction, fermentation or refining needed,” according to Ryan W. Hunt, the company’s co-founder and chief technical officer. The algae is dried, mixed with a “carrier polymer” such as polylactic acid or ethylene-vinyl acetate, and then processed into resin pellets.

Compared with pure, virgin EVA, Algix’s blended Bloom foam generates 55 percent less carbon dioxide, uses 36 percent less energy usage and consumes 30 percent less water. Bonus: Harvesting the algae also cleans roughly 2,253 liters of polluted water per kilogram of pellets.

Algix is ramping up production. Its commercial line can churn out more than 10 million pounds of the Bloom resin per year, and through “internal expansion and strategic partnerships,” the capacity can be scaled up exponentially as long as algae biomass is available, Hunt said.

Building its supply chain from the ground up has taken time, but more than 70 footwear, fashion and sportswear brands including Saola Shoes are now incorporating—or will be incorporating—Bloom in their lineups. Reformation, New Balance and H&M all employed the material in their 2019 collections, thrusting Bloom into the mainstream. One highly anticipated upcoming launch is a Bloom-based clog for Yeezy, rapper Kanye West’s fashion collaboration with Adidas.

For Algix, this is only the beginning.

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“The market and public awareness about algae blooms has created buzz for us within government agencies, utilities and companies outside of our current focus, which has catapulted Bloom into some new dimensions with more federally funded R&D projects, algae production scale-up projects, and high-level government support for the algae biotechnology industry,” Hunt said.

One person’s pollution, after all, is another’s resource.

“If we can put a price tag on the algae biomass to create an economic engine for transforming pollution into products, then industry will change their perspective from viewing their air and water pollution from a liability into an opportunity to produce value from their waste, while eliminating the release of environmentally harmful emissions,” Hunt said.

What’s the most important issue the fashion industry has yet to address?

“The strategic re-collection of fashion goods at their end of life appears to be one of the largest hurdles to creating a circular economy within the fashion industry.”

Sourcing Journal’s Sustaining Voices celebrates the efforts the apparel industry is making toward securing a more environmentally responsible future through creative innovations, scalable solutions and forward-thinking initiatives that are spinning intent into action.

See more of our Sustaining Voices honorees and their stories, here.