Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a non-toxic, nonstick coating that allows people to get the last layers of sticky condiments out of their bottles.
LiquiGlide Inc. CEOs and co-founders Dr. Kripa K. Varanasi, a professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, and graduate student J. David Smith, began to develop the technology in 2012. Their initial goal was to create a slippery surface for industrial usage, such as preventing a layer of oil from sticking to crude pipelines. As the technology developed, Varanasi saw how it could be applied for day-to-day use, such as preventing layers of honey or ketchup from sticking to a bottle.
Condiments like ketchup, mustard, and mayonnaise stick to their bottles because they’re viscous liquids that require a forceful push or squeeze to move. The layers of these substances flow at different rates, with the centermost layer flowing the fastest, and the outermost flowing the slowest. The layer closest to the container often sticks to the bottle, which the founders of LiquiGlide work to solve.
LiquiGlide is based on previously hydrophobic technology, where a textured surface creates a cushion of air for the substance to sit on. Superhydrophobic technology strongly repels liquid, causing it to form microscopic balls that sit on pockets of air and roll off easily. What’s problematic about that superhydrophobic technology is that the microscopic texture can be damaged, so when a liquid makes contact with the technology, the pockets of air are displaced and liquid sticks to the surface.
Varanasi and Smith’s work replaces the layer of air in between the liquid and solid material with a liquid lubricant, forming a multi-layer surface where the liquid lubricant clings more strongly to the solid surface than the liquid in the container. The liquid lubricant forms a liquid-impregnated surface on top of the porous, textured material, filling in the gaps where air previously formed cushions.
For condiments and other edible, sticky substances, developers use edible materials to coat the insides of bottles, making it harmless for consumption. For other industries such as crude oil, non-edible chemicals may be used, depending on what liquid lubricants work best with the product.
The technology allows consumers to reduce food waste, and companies to reduce the amount of plastic used in producing packaging. An estimated one million tons of condiments are thrown out each year because of how they stick to the bottle, and researchers believe that modified packaging that includes the removal of safety caps will reduce 50,000 tons of plastic each year.
Varanasi and Smith first presented the superhydrophobic coating at the MIT $100K Entrepreneurship Competition in 2012, winning the Audience Choice Award and first place in the Mass Challenge. The company was founded soon after in order to capitalize on patents for the technology. In March 2015, LiquiGlide received seven million dollars in equity funding from Roadmap Capital, Inc., allowing the small company to move into a new office and laboratory. LiquiGlide announced an exclusive licensing deal with Elmer’s Products, Inc. on March 24 to produce slippery coating technology for their glue bottles.
“LiquiGlide will provide Elmer’s with a significant competitive advantage, while showcasing their commitment to product innovation and environmentally friendly best practices,” said Smith in a press release. “Working with marketleading firms like Elmer’s continues to validate LiquiGlide’s technology and the value it brings across a broad spectrum of industries, including [consumer packaged goods].”
According to The New York Times, the first nonstick mayonnaise bottles can be expected as early as this year, and easier-to-squeeze toothpaste could be available by 2017.