The 18-month research project is being undertaken by the new, high-profile Industrial Coating and Packaging (ICAP) consortium, which comprises packaging, chemical firms and even Nestlé’s Singapore R&D Centre
It is being led by Singapore’s Institute of Materials Research (IMRE), a research body within the city-state’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR), and a spokesman told FoodProductionDaily.com that the overall budget for the project was SGD $300,000 (€182,000), with each of the initial five consortium members contributing SGD $60,000.
Better product protection
Together with its industry partners, IMRE said it aimed to develop transparent plastics for foods and medicines that provided better protection from oxidation, moisture and ultraviolet (UV) rays, and the spokesman said that the first results were expected "in around 18 months to two years time".
IMRE senior scientist and project leader, Dr Li Xu, said: “Plastics make up about 40% of most packaging materials, with the market set to grow at a faster rate than any other packaging material used today.
“However, current plastic packaging has its limitations as it allows diffusion of oxygen, moisture and UV light compared to materials like aluminium or tin. This oxidises and degrades perishables like food and pharmaceuticals,” he added.
Xu said the researchers aimed to design plastics that required less energy to produce, and that allowed customers to see perishable products within, marking a step change when compared with today’s opaque aluminium-plastic packaging materials.
In more general terms, Professor Andy Hor, IMRE’s executive director called for a new generation of food packaging that went beyond usual functions.
“For example, packaging that helps food stay fresh and last longer, or with a built-in security feature that deters tampering, or even one that lights up when food turns sour,” he said.
Regarding the current research project within the consortium, Hor added: “The secret may lie in IMRE’s novel layer-by-layer technology of stacking modified clay sheets. ICAP members will have access to that.”
Back in 2005, IMRE scientist Dr He Chaobin explained this then emergent technology: it involves preparing polymer/clay nanocomposites to bolster polymer resin performance for better barrier properties, flame resistance, stability and solvent uptake.
Chaobin identified potential applications for such nanocomposites included beverage and food containers, barrier films and coatings, electronic components and aerospace or automotive parts.
Speaking today, Li said that technology developed for smart plasticsmight also be used to make paints and varnishes that protect surfaces with air-tight coating and blocked oxidising UV and near infrared rays.
The ICAP consortium was formed to meet the needs for specialised packaging and coatings for critical components, materials and equipment in a wide range of industries.