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02/01/2014 06:00 | By Mark Hattersley, contributor, MSN Innovation

Food companies test non-stick ketchup bottle

Could 2014 see the introduction of the non-stick ketchup bottle developed by MIT students?


A ketchup bottle being emptied (© Getty Images)

Researchers from MIT are developing a non-stick ketchup bottle that could spell the end of having to tap and shake your bottle of tomato sauce. The bottle is now undergoing testing and they hope to bring it to market in 2014.

Heinz claims that its tomato ketchup exits the bottle at an excruciatingly slow 0.028mph. The same sauce inside the MIT bottle slides straight out and onto a dish – leaving no visible trace of having been in the bottle.

A series of impressive demonstrations have shown researchers quickly sliding tomato sauce, mayonnaise and other normally thick sauces straight out of a bottle, leaving no trace on the side.

Tomato sauce quickly slides out of a ketchup bottle (© LiquiGlide)

Tomato sauce quickly slides out of a ketchup bottle

The better bottle

This new type of bottle has been developed by professor Kripa Varanasi and student researchers at the Varanasi Research Group at MIT. “I am motivated by different applications for reducing adhesion,” MIT PhD candidate Dave Smith, part of the research team, told MIT's MechE Connects.

Varanasi and his team came second place in MIT's $100k Entrepreneurship competition and their product, now named LiquiGlide, was shortlisted for an award by London’s iconic Design Museum. But the real payoff will come if they manage to work with food companies and bring the product to market. Smith claims that the market is worth an estimated $17 billion and that they have heavily patented the design.

LiquiGlide is being tested at an unnamed manufacturer. Ketchup was used as the demonstration, but will Heinz be one of the companies looking to implement it? (© Heinz)

LiquiGlide is being tested at an unnamed manufacturer. Ketchup was used as the demonstration, but will Heinz be one of the companies looking to implement it?

Research and development

However, bringing a whole new type of bottle to market is a bigger challenge than simply creating one in a laboratory. “We have just started our first development project,” says Smith, “and we are going to be developing several new projects this year with different companies – largely consumer-packaged goods companies.” Companies cannot simply use the new technology, instead it must first pass stringent health and safety tests in the US. This isn’t as easy as you’d imagine because the lining of each LiquiGlide bottle has to be created to a specific design, based upon what’s inside it.

LiquiGlide has to work with the as-yet-unnamed consumer company to create a bespoke bottle for its product. These are being extensively tested to prove that they are safe containers for consumption of the product inside. “We always start off by developing a coating, which involves selecting materials that not only create a stable, slippery, impregnated surface but also satisfy the other requirements that the particular application might have,” explained Smith.

LiquiGlide has to prove that its coating is safe and immiscible enough to provide a shelf life of two years. And each product will require Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. “Every application has its own specific requirements we have to meet,” adds Smith.

LiquiGlide works by sealing a slippery liquid coating within a solid substance on the inside of the bottle (© LiquiGlide)

LiquiGlide works by sealing a slippery liquid coating within a solid substance on the inside of the bottle

Fast and loose

The actual LiquiGlide process is a closely guarded secret, and the inventors have claimed that the materials used are different for each type of product. But they have revealed that it works differently to other solutions. Both Teflon and oil-based surfaces cause liquid to roll off, and recent superhydrophobic materials create a highly porous surface which creates an air cushion that liquid slides off (without even staining the surface of the item).

LiquiGlide works differently. The researchers first analyse the client's product and identify a liquid that has compatible chemical and physical properties (one that the client's product will roll off). Once the compatible liquids are identified they find a solid material that adheres to the surface and will create a porous structure. This traps the liquid using capillary forces, and the manufacturer's product slips down off the LiquiGlide liquid, which is held in place in the packaging.

“It’s that liquid that gives it the slipperiness,” says Smith. “So it is a lot like using oil in a frying pan, but in this case we made that oil layer permanent by trapping it in place.” So in the case of our ketchup bottle, LiquiGlide has identified a liquid that is compatible with tomato ketchup, and a solid surface to hold it in place while the ketchup itself slips out of the bottle. What those liquids are looks set to remain a closely guarded secret, however.

Other liquid repellent surfaces work by coating a bottle in oil or by using the new Lotus Effect superhydrophobic technique (© LiquiGlide)

Other liquid-repellent surfaces work by coating a bottle in oil or by using the new Lotus Effect superhydrophobic technique

Made to measure

Because each LiquiGlide product is custom made, they can adjust the materials to control the speed at which liquids slide over the surface by changing the materials or structure of the coating. This would enable manufacturers to control the speed at which products leave their packaging. You could have fast ketchup, slow ketchup and original ketchup. We imagine many companies are wondering what the actual optimum speed of sauce leaving a bottle is?

Whether manufacturers adopt LiquiGlide and place it on supermarket shelves will be interesting to find out. On the one hand it’s easy to see how manufacturers do not have much of a vested interest in paying extra to create a new type of bottle that enables its customers to use every scrap of its product (instead of just buying more of it). On the other hand we can see how enabling people to quickly use up all of a product leaving an empty glass could encourage use, and encourage people to make a repeat purchase.

The first LiquiGlide products should appear on supermarket shelves in 2014 (© Heinz)

The first LiquiGlide products should appear on supermarket shelves in 2014

Sticking point

From the customer side of things, a new type of frictionless bottle would seem odd at first, and some companies have even made a selling point out of thick sauces that require bashing and scooping out of bottles. But customers may quickly find frictionless bottles a convenience they don’t like to live without. We’re pretty sure Heinz and the other major manufacturers are mulling over the pros and cons of LiquiGlide while it is being tested by the FDA. And the supermarket shelves will prove if customers warm to the product.

LiquiGlide isn’t just limited to food packaging though. Along with other recent inventions such as superhydrophobic coating it is being investigated for processing plants, cooling power plants and even as a plane de-icer. According to LiquiGlide it is “the first permanently wet slippery surface, there is no other durable solution that makes viscous liquids slide easily. What the wheel was to transportation, LiquiGlide will be to liquids – it will change how liquids move.”

We should find out when the first consumer products start to appear on shelves in 2014.


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