Consumers expend a remarkable amount of energy (and muscle) interacting with household goods. We’re constantly shaking bottles of mustard or salad dressing, praying the condiments will eventually spill onto our food. We’re violently rattling pens and Coca-Cola cans trying to will out any last dribbles of ink or soda. And everyone has experienced the pain of running out of toothpaste, when we have to squeeze and mush and roll up that tube of Crest until it looks like the end of an elf’s slipper, to force those final sticky gobs onto our Sonicare brush. But a new solution from MIT called LiquiGlide could finally end such first-world woes once and for all–while dealing a serious blow to the world’s waste.
LiquiGlide is a super slippery coating that can be applied to all types of surfaces. When Co.Exist first broke the news about the invention, Dave Smith, the PhD candidate behind the novel substance, was focused on using LiquiGlide to make ketchup flow from jars like water–so we no longer had to tussle with that bottle of Heinz like a Shake Weight. (His aim was noble: Smith estimated the solution could save more than a million tons of annual food waste in the sauce industry alone.)
Since then, Smith has dropped out of MIT, incorporated LiquiGlide, and built up a team of nearly 20 mechanical engineers and nano-technologists. His company is now negotiating deals with the largest consumer packaged goods companies to bring LiquiGlide to everything from toothpaste and syrup to beer. He’s also exploring how the technology could be applied to a new range of industries, including medical, manufacturing, and even transportation products.
Smith and company are hesitant to say much about the formula behind LiquiGlide. Carsten Boers, the company’s president, compares the texture to a sponge, which, when “impregnated with liquid,” acts as a lubricating agent. Applied to a surface, the LiquiGlide coating will create a non-stick buffer between, say, a plastic bottle and mayonnaise, so the normally sludgy condiment “just floats right onto the sandwich,” says Smith, who boasts that LiquiGlide can work with any viscous liquid, paste, or gel.
Because LiquiGlide is odorless, tasteless, and composed of only FDA-approved materials, the team envisions applications for all sorts of household goods. The company is already developing ways to make it easier for consumers to pour out paint, laundry detergent, and even glue from traditional containers.
That won’t just reduce waste, it will also reduce costs and help mitigate the harm we’re doing to the environment in the process. LiquiGlide estimates, for example, that we throw out roughly 7% to 16% of the detergent per bottle because it’s hard to get to–roughly $1 to $2 of value. With LiquiGlide, however, the syrupy substance won’t stick to the sides–it will flow right out, saving us a trip to the supermarket for another plastic bottle. It could also change how we package goods, since many of the most complicated and expensive parts of containers–pump mechanisms, closures–are designed to force a product’s contents out, and are now unnecessary with LiquiGlide.
“You often have 50% of the packaging weight in the cap, so that’s a lot of wasted energy and resources right there,” says Boers. Smaller package sizes, he adds, will lower distribution transportation costs and thus lower fuel emissions too.
But the kitchen is just the beginning. The company envisions greater potential in putting LiquiGlide in factories. “If we can make mayonnaise slide out of a bottle, in a very similar fashion, we can make [another material] slide through a pipeline, or a filling machine, or a mixing bucket,” Boers explains. He imagines, for example, that LiquiGlide could one day be used to de-clog oil pipelines. Another wild application: life-saving medical tools. “What works for ketchup also works for blood,” Boers says–lubricant could reduce clogs in needles, tubes, stents, even catheters.
For now, though, the company is focused on consumer goods. It’s in the process of striking licensing deals with large consumer goods companies to apply LiquiGlide’s coating to a variety of products, which are set to hit market in early 2015. The company isn’t responsible for buying the materials for the coating or applying it to packaging. Rather, the LiquiGlide team is simply developing the coating for other companies to use, licensing it to them on a deal-by-deal, product-by-product basis. (At start, the licensing deals are likely to be exclusive, but Boers says the company has an “ethical mission to reduce waste wherever it occurs,” so any exclusivity will only be temporary.)
The trick for LiquiGlide will be to make its coating applicable to as many substances as possible. Because the original formula is not universally applicable, the coating requires tweaks for each residue and ingredient it interacts with: The formula for making Aunt Jemima syrup flow, for example, is likely different than the one that lets Elmer’s glue flow. Currently, LiquiGlide’s database of coatings can work with 50 solids and several hundred liquids, but the totals could reach the four figures by the year’s end.
Boers won’t go into detail about the deals the company is locking in–they’re still in negotiation–but says “we have finished a number of coatings now that are ready for market, specifically for toothpaste, paint, egg yolk, mayonnaise, yogurt, and sour cream.”
To see how you’ll interact with these future consumer goods, check out the videos above.