In 2009 Consumer Reports performed a series of tests that showed that a good portion of what we buy never makes it out of the container and instead ends up in the trash can. The tests showed that up to 25% of skin lotion, 16% of laundry detergent and 15% of condiments, such as mustard and ketchup, end up getting thrown away. So what if there was a true non-stick surface that allowed for all contents of a container to be used? What other industrial uses might be possible for such a non-stick technology?
A True, Zero-waste, Non-stick Solution
Seemingly defying physics, a true non-stick technology has now been developed. In answer to an entrepreneurial contest at MIT, coupled with provocation from a professor’s wife asking for a more efficient bottle of honey, a new company, LiquiGlide, has been born. Started by MIT mechanical engineering professor Kripa K. Varanasi, and his graduate student, J. David Smith, they have developed a coating for the insides of bottles that creates a “permanently wet and slippery surface.” Yet, before we go further, take a moment to see this technology in action:
A toothpaste demonstration: standard bottle on the left, LiquiGlide bottle on the right
Video Courtesy: Liquiglide
The company announced on Monday that it had signed an exclusive licensing agreement with Elmber’s Products Inc. for the use of its coatings in glue containers. Anthony Spath, associate manager for innovation and business development at Elmer’s said,
“We certainly see a chance for a competitive advantage.”
LiquiGlide has also signed a licensing deal to a packaging company in Australia where the idea is to make the inside surface of paint can lids slippery such that paint won’t stick there. The company noted that paint drying on the inside lid causes several issues, including waste, as well as dried bits that end up as bumps on the wall or clog paint spraying equipment. There could also be major environmental payoffs through the reduction of waste. Professor Varanasi’s grad student turned CEO of LiquiGlide stated, “we expect it to be ubiquitous (in a few years).”
Pouring water from a bottle is easy…and almost 100% efficient. Water has a very low viscosity rating, which means it has a very low propensity to get hung up or stick. On the near reverse end of the scale is something like the toothpaste shown above, which is highly viscous, and requires far more than gravity to get it flowing. The scale of viscosity is presented below:
Image Courtesy: Nature.com
Toothpaste is the type of material that scientists term a “Bingham plastic,” a highly viscous material that does not flow without a strong push. Of course, toothpaste is not a plastic…it just has the properties that fit the term named after chemist Eugene Bingham, who described the mathematical properties associated with such highly viscous materials.
In yet another example, with a LiguiGlide surface applied inside a mayonnaise bottle, the results are truly impressive. Take a look:
A mayonnaise demonstration: standard bottle on the left, LiquiGlide bottle on the right
Video Courtesy: Liquiglide.com
Visions Well Beyond Food
Dr. Varanasi’s vision for the many possible applications for LiquiGlide go well beyond food and into several industrial applications. For example, LiquiGlide could be used to allow for far more efficient pumping of crude oil, or for the placement onto airplane wings to prevent ice buildup. As you get the mind going, the number of applications are truly astounding. The potential impacts in safety, efficiency, performance and more, across multiple industries and commercial applications, seem pretty obvious. To be sure, LiquiGlide has its eyes on several of these avenues, having just picked up $7m in a VC funding round.
Applications for LiquiGlide beyond food include many industrial and commercial applications, including the reduction of ice build-up on airplane wings.
Image Courtesy: PilotGateways.com
With 20 employees, LiquiGlide just moved into a larger office and laboratory space, and is actively exploring new, industrial applications, including coatings for petroleum storage tanks and pipelines. Such an application could not only create better oil transfer efficiency (reducing the amount of energy needed to transport oil), it could also speed up the cleaning of the pipes and oil tanks…allowing for fewer chemicals to be used in the process. Speed, efficiency, positive environmental impacts, it is a positive, upward spiral.
See in the example below how crude oil slips off of a LiquiGlide-treated sheet. Imagine this application in a pipeline:
The founders of LiquiGlide have said that a mayonnaise bottle could be coming this year or early next year. Easier-to-squeeze toothpaste may be coming in 2017. “There are significant savings from a sustainability perspective,” Dr. Varanasi said.
With what we’re seeing here, it seems that Liquiglide could be the answer to our “high-viscosity” prayers…at least, we’ll be watching to see if this new technology “sticks” around.