Bioengineers at the University of Maine have developed a golf ball made from lobster shells.
Their goal was to make a product designed to be hit off cruise ships.
After about seven days in water, the eco-friendly golf balls begin to break down.
Researchers say the material the golf balls are made of could also be used on other products.
The biodegradable golf balls don’t go as far as regular golf balls, but developers say they can be hit with both irons and drivers.
The university expects to have a patent completed for the lobster golf balls sometime in the next few years.
“The weight’s the same. The size is the same,” he said. “It flies straight when hit.”
And the ball has one advantage over its synthetic predecessor, according to the UMaine researchers. Anyone who wants to hit a few off the porch into the woods or off a boat into the water can do so without feeling pangs of guilt for polluting the environment, they said, because the balls are biodegradable.
Neivandt said there are other biodegradable golf balls on the market but that the ball developed at UMaine is both strong and can break down quickly in the environment. If the ball ends up in the water, he said, it substantially dissolves in about one week — more quickly than other biodegradable balls.
Like other biodegradable versions, the UMaine lobster ball doesn’t fly as far as traditional golf balls, he said. But other biodegradable golf balls can damage wooden drivers when struck and so can be used only with iron clubs, he said. The UMaine ball does not damage drivers, he said, and can be hit safely with both drivers and irons.
Another aspect about the UMaine ball is that its surface starts to crack after a few whacks, or perhaps even after one if hit with a driver. Neivandt said this was done on purpose, to help hasten the ball’s dissolution in water. The ball could be redesigned to last longer, he said, but UMaine researchers think there is a market for balls that do not last as long.
Cruise ships used to allow passengers to hit balls off their decks into the sea, the researchers said, but that stopped after environmental concerns about the practice arose. If someone is going to hit a ball off a cruise ship, or from the shore, there is no need to hit it more than once, they said.
Neivandt said some cruise ships do carry biodegradable balls, but that they are expensive. Some other environmentally friendly balls can cost $1 apiece, but Neivandt said UMaine’s version can be made for less money. The materials for one UMaine lobster ball have a total cost of less than 20 cents, he said.
“We anticipate coming in well under that dollar-a-ball number,” Neivandt said.