Surfers are a strange group. For a bunch of people that play in the ocean, we sure don’t treat it all that well–most of our surfboards are made up of an incredible amount of toxic shit. There are a few exceptions, but the vast majority of our wave-sliding equipment is just plain filthy. But now there’s another option. A surfboard made of algae.
The chem department over at UC San Diego came up with the algae-based board, which was publicly unveiled on Tuesday at the San Diego Symphony Hall.
Stephen Mayfield, an algae geneticist at UC San Diego who headed the surfboard’s production, has been surfing for nearly 50 years. Along with Marty Gilchrist of Arctic Foam–the largest blank builder in North America– and Rob Machado, he presented the board to San Diego Mayor Faulconer.
“Our hope is that Mayor Faulconer will put this surfboard in his office so everyone can see how San Diego is a hub not only for innovation, but also for collaboration at many different levels,” he told UCSD News. “An algae-based surfboard perfectly fits with the community and our connection with the ocean and surfing.”
They began working on the project a few months ago, when undergrads in Mayfield’s class were making biofuels from algae. Then they joined chemistry students who were trying to solve a problem: how to make polyurethane foam from algae oil. Today, polyurethane surfboard foam is made entirely from petroleum products.
“Most people don’t realize that petroleum is algae oil,” explained Mayfield to UCSD News. “It’s just fossilized, 300 million to 400 million years old and buried deep in underground.”
Students figured out how to change the oil into “polyols,” which when mixed with silicates turn into a hard foam-like substance. When the project began, Mayfield called on Solazyme, Inc, a California-based biotech company. They supplied a gallon of the algae oil. Then, after the chemistry students turned that gallon into a foam, Arctic Foam shaped the surfboard and glassed it with a coat of fiberglass and renewable resin.
“In the future, “Mayfield said, “we’re thinking about 100 percent of the surfboard being made that way—the fiberglass will come from renewable resources, the resin on the outside will come from a renewable resource.”