Non-Stick Packaging Made Possible by Nanocoating
Prior frustrations about getting that last bit of ketchup out of the bottle will be alleviated thanks to a special nanocoating in the packaging. The project is the focus of a joint European research project by the Fraunhofer Institutes for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising and for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart, Munich University of Technology and BMB and other industrial partners.
A new type of packaging – pictured is a bottle of ketchup – will reduce the left-over traces by at least half. On the left is a conventional bottle, on the right a coated one.
Not only is this problematic and wasteful for the consumers, it also poses a problem for recycling: the leftovers first have to be removed from the packaging, which is expensive, time-consuming, and uses a great deal of water. If the products in question are pharmaceuticals, chemicals or pesticides, the rinsed-out leftovers also have to be disposed of in a suitable manner.
"We are developing packaging materials that reduce left-over traces to half or less,” says Dr. Cornelia Stramm, head of the Functional Films business field at the IVV. The researchers apply thin films, no more than 20 nanometers thick, to the inside surface of the packaging.
“We make the coatings from a plasma of the type already familiar from neon lamps,” explains IGB scientist Dr. Michaela Müller. “It is done by placing the plastics into a vacuum. We introduce gases into this vacuum chamber and ignite them by applying a voltage. We can deposit different coatings with defined properties on the surface of the packaging, depending on the proportions of electrons, ions, neutrons and photons in this luminous gas mixture.”
The research scientists at the IGB are now working to optimize the coatings applied – improving properties such as adhesive strength. “The coatings must not change the properties of the materials. They must remain capable of being industrially processed to form bottles, tubes, or stand-up pouches of the kind typically used for liquid soap,” insists Müller.
Her fellow scientists at the IVV are taking a closer look at the coatings produced: How resistant are they to mechanical stress? How do they react to temperature fluctuations, or to contact with acids and alkalis?
In about two to three years, Stramm hopes, the bottles could be freely yielding their last drop of ketchup to consumers.