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Students create Bioplastic for Athletic Shoes

by Green Plastics


Bioplastics Project Team
Four of the five eleventh-graders on the bioplastics project team at the ECOTEK lab. Clockwise, from bottom left: Keith Young, Jr.; Jordan Massey; Aaron Harrigan; William Marshall. All are from Renaissance High School except Aaron Harrigan, who is from Henry Ford Academy. The fifth member, Tendiya Pillow, was not available for the photo.

DETROIT, November 18, 2010: Most teenagers have an interest in athletic shoes, but five Detroit high school students who aspire to careers in science have also shown strong interest in the technology behind such shoes, in particular the potential for replacing conventional shoe components with bioplastics.

In a five-month research project sponsored by the Detroit Section of the Society of Plastics Engineers (SPE), the five youths studied plastics production, athletic shoe construction, and the science of bioplastics before testing various bioplastic formulations. The object was to identify the best formulation for replacing non-biodegradable materials in insoles. After testing materials for melting point, durability, absorption, and elasticity, they gave high marks to one they called “G-2,” a blend of glycerin, agar, gelatin, and water.

The students—Aaron Harrigan, William Marshall, Jordan Massey, Tendyia Pillow, and Keith Young, Jr.—went a step further. They created a science kit called “Bioplastic-in-a-Box,” which they hope SPE can help make available to other students as encouragement to pursue “green” science as a career.

The project work took place at the Detroit laboratory of ECOTEK, an organization that supports research projects by middle and high school students who aspire to careers in science or engineering. ECOTEK founder Keith Young, Sr. supervised the five-student team. The liaisons from the SPE Detroit Section were Thomas Miller and James Keeler.

“Green science, alternative energy, and other timely fields of inquiry that are the focus of student projects at ECOTEK promise a wide range of career opportunities for today’s young people,” said Sandra McClelland, past president of SPE’s Detroit Section. “The work carried out by the bioplastics team at ECOTEK may well inspire other SPE Sections as they look for ways to engage the participation of students in their communities.”

To prepare for their work in formulating bioplastics, the five students began by reading Green Plastics: An Introduction to the New Science of Biodegradable Plastics, by E.S. Stevens. They visited the BASF Corp. plant in nearby Wyandotte, MI to learn about plastics manufacture. To familiarize themselves with the types of athletic shoes on the market and the materials of which they are made, they took field trips to shoe retailers like Foot Locker and dissected shoes to identify their components and understand how they are made.

Details on the bioplastic insole project, including a video, are available at

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