Apparently I’m not the only one who gets irritated by the inaccessible nature of the container. Dr. Kripa Varanasi and a team of graduate students at MIT were designing water-repellent coatings for steam turbines. The intention was to improve efficiency and durability. Other possible applications were preventing ice formation on airplanes and power lines, and prevent methane hydrates from clogging deep-sea oil and gas pipelines. But as an added benefit, the coating they developed can be used in bottles for consumer products like condiments and hair gel.
You can watch videos of all sorts of materials from crude oil to toothpaste on LiquiGlide Inc. website.
So how does it work? Normally, the approach to making things glide over a surface involves creating a highly textured surface. Air bubbles form in all the gaps and the liquid (like ketchup) sits on the cushion of air. The problem is that the air can be replaced by the liquid or other material itself. For example, with airplane wings, frost can form in the spaces, displacing the air, and giving the ice a place to attach to.
LiquiGlide uses a highly textured surface but then coats that surface with a liquid that is held together with surface tension and will not move from the spaces, or mix with your liquid. This creates a permanently slippery surface.
One way that works for me to think about this is walking on ice. Walking on ice at -30°C isn’t actually that sketchy. The ice isn’t particularly slippery at this temperature because it stays as ice and my boots can get a grip. But around 0°C, when there is often a thin layer of water on top of the ice, beware. This is when you are much more likely to slip.
So, aside from saving some frustration are there real benefits to this technology? I personally am a fan of anything that might be able to prevent planes from icing up but this goes a lot further than that. According to the groups calculations it could save approximately a million tons of wasted condiments per year. Manufacturers can also change some of their bottle construction saving thousands of tons of plastics annually, and the coating is actually made of food materials so if you do consume some of the coating you will be fine. (Although that does raise questions of allergies for me).
Beyond that there are many more applications. If pipelines are coated with the compound more oil will actually be retrieved from the pipeline, again causing less waste and more efficient transportation.
This doesn’t solve my issue with the shape of containers but I for one am looking forward to the day that bottles with this coating hit store shelves. According to the LiquiGlide Inc website that should be in toothpaste, mayonnaise, and lotion containers in 2015.
It should be noted though that this isn’t going to be uniform. The company is in conversations with clients to discuss exclusivity agreements. This means that when one brand of toothpaste starts using the coating, others won’t be able to. In the end, the market rules all.
Information drawn from