New coating ensures all ketchup comes out bottle

New coating ensures all ketchup comes out of bottle

4:56 AM, 30th May 2016
New coating ensures all ketchup comes out of bottle
Ketchup slides out of a bottle that's been coated with LiquiGlide.

MASSACHUSETTS, US: The days of wasting condiments — and other products — that stick stubbornly to the sides of their bottles may be gone, thanks to Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spinout LiquiGlide, which has licensed its nonstick coating to a major consumer-goods company. 

Developed by MIT’s Kripa Varanasi and David Smith, LiquiGlide is a liquid-impregnated coating that acts as a slippery barrier between a surface and a viscous liquid. Applied inside a condiment bottle, for instance, the coating clings permanently to its sides, while allowing the condiment to glide off completely, with no residue.

Today, Norwegian consumer-goods producer Orkla has signed a licensing agreement to use the LiquiGlide’s coating for mayonnaise products sold in Germany, Scandinavia, and several other European nations. This comes on the heels of another licensing deal, with Elmer.

But this is only the beginning, said Varanasi, an associate professor of mechanical engineering who is now on LiquiGlide’s board of directors and chief science advisor. The startup, which just entered the consumer-goods market, is courting deals with numerous producers of foods, beauty supplies, and household products.

“Our coatings can work with a whole range of products because we can tailor each coating to meet the specific requirements of each application,” Varanasi said.

Apart from providing savings and convenience, LiquiGlide aims to reduce the surprising amount of wasted products — especially food — that stick to container sides and get tossed. Consumer reports found that up to 15 percent of bottled condiments are ultimately thrown away. Keeping bottles clean, could also drastically cut the use of water and energy, as well as the costs associated with rinsing bottles before recycling. “It has huge potential in terms of critical sustainability,” Varanasi said.

LiquiGlide aims next to tackle buildup in oil and gas pipelines, which can cause corrosion and clogs that reduce flow. Future uses, he adds, could include coatings for medical devices such as catheters, deicing roofs and airplane wings, and improving manufacturing and process efficiency. “Interfaces are ubiquitous,” he said. “We want to be everywhere.”

 Liquid-impregnated surfaces

LiquiGlide was originally developed while Smith worked on his graduate research in Varanasi’s research group. Smith and Varanasi were interested in preventing ice buildup on airplane surfaces and methane hydrate buildup in oil and gas pipelines.

Some initial work was on superhydrophobic surfaces, which trap pockets of air and naturally repel water. But both researchers found that these surfaces don’t, in fact, shed every bit of liquid. During phase transitions — when vapour turns to liquid, for instance — water droplets condense within microscopic gaps on surfaces, and steadily accumulate. This leads to loss of anti-icing properties of the surface.

Mixing and matching the materials, however, is a complicated process. Liquid components of the coating, for instance, must be compatible with the chemical and physical properties of the sticky product, and generally immiscible. The solid material must form a textured structure while adhering to the container. And the coating can’t spoil the contents: Foodstuffs, for instance, require safe, edible materials, such as plants and insoluble fibers.

To help choose ingredients, Smith and Varanasi developed the basic scientific principles and algorithms that calculate how the liquid and solid coating materials, and the product, as well as the geometry of the surface structures will all interact to find the optimal “recipe.”

Today, LiquiGlide develops coatings for clients and licenses the recipes to them. Included are instructions that detail the materials, equipment, and process required to create and apply the coating for their specific needs. “The state of the coating we end up with depends entirely on the properties of the product you want to slide over the surface,” said Smith, now LiquiGlide’s CEO.

Initially, the idea was to bring coatings to the oil and gas industry. But one day, in early 2012, Varanasi saw his wife struggling to pour honey from its container. “And I thought, ‘We have a solution for that,” Varanasi said.

This ecosystem includes the Deshpande Center for Technological Innovation, the Martin Trust Center for MIT Entrepreneurship, the Venture Mentoring Service, and the Technology Licensing Office, among other initiatives.

“Having a lab where we could think about translating the technology to real-world applications, and having this ability to meet people, and bounce ideas that whole MIT ecosystem was key,” Varanasi said.

© MIT News

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