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Weekly Innovation: Nonstick Coating Helps Ketchup Slide Out

Just think about how much food or product we waste because it's stuck on the sides of its container. Whether it's that last bit of ketchup or toothpaste, it seems easier to throw it out and start anew rather than deal with that endless game of shaking and squeezing.

The inventor of hopes his product can solve this age-old problem. It's a lubricant that when applied to the inside of a bottle, the ketchup or lotion slides right out. Just turn the bottle upside down, and let gravity take over.

Back in 2012, inventor and CEO Dave Smith, along with six other MIT researchers, solved the problem of a backed up ketchup bottle using LiquiGlide technology. Since then, the developers say they've launched feasibility trials funded by 27 companies in seven countries. LiquiGlide, as their company is also called, will design a custom solution for a variety of industries including consumer goods, oil and gas, and utilities, and then will license the rights to the development process.

Smith calls LiquiGlide a liquid-impregnating surface or a multi-layer coating consisting of a porous solid and a liquid. The liquid is sprayed on top of the solid and is trapped inside the pores. Then the ketchup or lotion inside the bottle sits on top of the liquid layer.

"If you think of oil in a frying pan, put an egg on that, and it slides around," Smith says. "The slipperiness we provide is just like that except for we have an additional benefit in that it can't be washed off or worn off, so we create a permanently wet surface. The way we trap that in place is exactly the way liquid gets trapped inside a tissue or sponge."

LiquiGlide coatings are made out of several different materials depending on the product, Smith says. For products such as condiments or body lotion, the developers often use common materials already found in the product, making the coating nontoxic. So although you might consume a small amount of LiquiGlide, it is relatively harmless, he says.

"I've taken a spoonful of this stuff, and it's perfectly safe," Smith says. "We custom design coatings for every application. So the coating that we have working for mayonnaise won't necessarily work for a lotion. For health and beauty products, we usually look at the ingredients in health and beauty products as a starting point."

Smith created the prototype for LiquiGlide in 2009 when he was Ph.D. student at MIT. He says the idea came when he was thinking about creating a fluid to prevent icing on planes. Then after founding LiquiGlide in 2012, a video of the product in action went viral. [ You can see more product videos here.]

But Smith says this isn't just about convenience.

"We've mostly focused on packaging, but really our vision for the technology is much broader," he says. "It goes into manufacturing, chemical industries, oil and gas even. Pumping around really thick crude oils or tars takes a lot of energy. Anywhere there's a viscous liquid that flows, when you go and think about it, there's viscous liquids in just about any industry."

In our "Weekly Innovation" blog series, we explore an interesting idea, design or product that you may not have heard of yet. Do you have an innovation to share? Use this quick form.

Samantha Raphelson is a producer for NPR.org. You can reach out to her on Twitter.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.