2012-05-24

Co.Exist

MIT's Freaky Non-Stick Coating Keeps Ketchup Flowing

Watch never-before-seen videos of an amazing new condiment lubricant that makes the inside of bottles so slippery, nothing is left inside. This means no more pounding on the bottom of your ketchup containers--and a lot less wasted food.

When it comes to those last globs of ketchup inevitably stuck to every bottle of Heinz, most people either violently shake the container in hopes of eking out another drop or two, or perform the "secret" trick: smacking the "57" logo on the bottle’s neck. But not MIT PhD candidate Dave Smith. He and a team of mechanical engineers and nano-technologists at the Varanasi Research Group have been held up in an MIT lab for the last two months addressing this common dining problem.

The result? LiquiGlide, a "super slippery" coating made up of nontoxic materials that can be applied to all sorts of food packaging--though ketchup and mayonnaise bottles might just be the substance’s first targets. Condiments may sound like a narrow focus for a group of MIT engineers, but not when you consider the impact it could have on food waste and the packaging industry. "It’s funny: Everyone is always like, 'Why bottles? What’s the big deal?' But then you tell them the market for bottles--just the sauces alone is a $17 billion market," Smith says. "And if all those bottles had our coating, we estimate that we could save about one million tons of food from being thrown out every year."

Check out what happens when you pour ketchup out of a LiquiGlide-coated bottle:

For point of reference, here’s ketchup coming out of a regular bottle. Keep in mind, this is the exact same ketchup. It’s so time-consuming and wasteful.

As Smith describes it, LiquiGlide is a surface that’s unique because it’s "kind of a structured liquid--it’s rigid like a solid, but it’s lubricated like a liquid." It works with many types of packaging--glass, plastic--and can be applied in any number of ways, including spraying the coating onto the inside of bottles. Now, thick sauces that would normally move like sludge seem to just fall out of LiquiGlide-coated bottles, as if they were suspended in space. "It just floats right onto the sandwich," Smith says.

One of the most significant challenges his team faced was making sure the coating was food safe, meaning his team could only work with materials the FDA had approved. "We had a limited amount of materials to pick from," Smith says. "I can’t say what they are, but we’ve patented the hell out of it."

Here’s mayo coming out of the coated bottle:

As opposed to this:

Originally, Smith’s team, which has been working for years now on developing various types of surface coatings, was pursuing different aims. "We were really interested in--and still are--using this coating for anti-icing, or for preventing clogs that form in oil and gas lines, or for non-wetting applications like, say, on windshields," Smith says. "Somehow this sparked the idea of putting it in food bottles. It could be great just for its slippery properties. Plus, most of these other applications have a much longer time to market; we realized we could make this coating for bottles that is pretty much ready. I mean, it is ready." As you can see.

Ironically, if LiquiGlide is a success, it will just mean Smith has to pound even more bottles of ketchup the old-fashioned way. He still has to perform the annoying task in product demos, to show a comparison between the LiquiGlide-sprayed bottles that work and the traditional bottles that don’t. "It was never really a personal pain point for me, but I do hate struggling to get sauce out of the bottles," Smith says, laughing. "I didn’t know about the tapping of the '57' until I started looking into this. It was all news to me."

But he’s already close to experiencing the sweet taste of victory: Last week, LiquiGlide came in second place, out of 215 teams, in MIT’s $100k Entrepreneurship Competition. His team also took home the audience-choice award.

Smith is now in talks with a few bottle companies to market LiquiGlide, though nothing is official yet. It’s still early. The team hasn’t even come up with its own company name, nor been incorporated yet. And their lab is still a complete mess.

"We have all types of sauces, jellies, and jams everywhere in our lab," Smith says. "It’s like a closet full of condiments."

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209 Comments

  • Janet Edwards

    I would like this in a sprayable application. I have several places in my home that this would be an absolute lifesaver. Babies=messes, and if there were a way I could coat some of the more mess prone things in my house with this, I wouldn't be spending so much time cleaning up.

  • Joy Morris

    Cool.... Now save lives and make it in pill form to use when getting a colonoscopy. The stuff you have to drink is the worst!

  • Nanotech Company Glonatech

    Nanotechnology applications in real life are the best. Great content to distribute socially. Thanks for sharing!

  • TedWinter

    Because the FDA can be trusted.  Or not.  When the FDA allowed GMO food onto our plates without having conducted significant scientific long-term studies of the effects, they lost all credibility.  The reason GMOs were and are allowed onto your dinner plate are political, not scientific and, what little science there is, is based on a VERY incomplete understanding of genetics.  We've barely scratched the surface of genetics.  The official "if it looks like food, it must be safe" FDA policy is based on an even more ancient understanding of genetics that are no longer true but they won't revisit that policy (again, for political, not scientific reasons).  If you don't believe me, go find a bottle of milk.  On the label it says, "The Food and Drug Administration has determined there is no significant difference between milk from rBST treated cows and non-rBST treated cows."  rBST is a drug for cows that messes around with their genetics.  That label is an outright lie perpetuated by FDA policy.  It has since been scientifically proven by an independent third-party and subsequent court case in 2010 that there is indeed a significant difference (and not in a good way).  The FDA continues to refuse to go back and change their policy despite overwhelming evidence and a court ruling that there is something wrong with rBST.  Something simple like that should make you question anything the FDA has ever approved.

    The FDA is tasked with scientifically determining whether or not food is safe.  The fact they are politically driven these days, not scientifically driven, makes their trustworthiness highly questionable.  And, by logical extension, question anyone touting that what they've made as being safe just because it is on the "FDA approved" lists.

  • Joe Olden

    You said: "When the FDA allowed GMO food onto our plates without having conducted
    significant scientific long-term studies of the effects, they lost all
    credibility." The FDA has never required long-term studies on ANY food they have approved. By your theory, shouldn't they have lost all credibility when they approved the first product?

  • AGreenhill

    Huh? The FDA should have "lost all credibility" long before GMOs...
    There are countless chemicals we're consuming on a daily basis that are
    known to be harmful, yet FDA approved.

  • IamJustanAmerican

    Damn, I can sleep better just knowing there are young people working diligently trying to solve such issues.

  • AGreenhill

    There are a lot of applications for this tech beyond these silly food demos. Manufacturing and science apps could greatly benefit from it.

  • Mesho

    This is a brillant idea! 
    I also have a suggestion but i wouldn't just spit it out. 
    I can say it will help the environment a ton. 
    Let me know if we are able to talk! thanks! 
      

  • Will Larson

    I wonder whether using this in toilet bowls would keep them cleaner while also help thing flush while requiring less water per flush?  

  • Sam_Sonite

    Disposal plumbing in general -- no more clogs, medical devices such as urethral catheters, pipelines could increase capacity by reducing friction and raising flow rate. Must be tons of applications.

  • Davorak

    How about honey?  That can be a pain to get the last little bits out as well, though not as bad as ketchup.