Scientific innovation is constantly changing how we live – be it in solving day-to-day problems or simply making lifestyles easier. And adding to that is the latest innovation that is revolutionising the way food is kept cool and transported.
You probably know that ice packs are used on a large scale for commercial food packaging and transportation. But these ice packs are not always a safe option, because – a) the ice melts easily b) the packs are not biodegradable. Therefore, each time the food industry uses ice packs for transportation and keeping the food fresh, a lot of harmful waste is released at the end. A group of researchers are trying to solve this very problem and they have good news!
Can you imagine an ice cube that neither melts nor grows mould? Introducing ‘jelly ice cubes’ – the latest successful science hunt! Scientists have designed these jelly cubes that are plastic-free, hoping that their innovation may open new frontiers in food-cooling tech.
First thing first, jelly ice cubes are not your regular ice cubes. They do not melt, have antimicrobial properties, and might prevent cross-contamination and reduce waste. Dr Gang Sun, a professor in the biological and agricultural engineering department at the University of California and his team synthesised this so-called solid ice that could serve as a cooling medium and is reusable. “You can use these jelly cubes for 13 hours for cooling, collect it, rinse it with water, and put it in the freezer to freeze again for the next use,” said Sun.
You might wonder how they created ice cubes that do not melt! Well, to begin with, jelly ice-cubes are made of hydrogel, a substance with super-soft structure (think of a dessert made of gelatin!) that traps the water inside it. So, unlike regular ice that melts easily, jelly ice does not allow water to escape, thus making it more sustainable.
Jiahan Zou, one researcher in this project, said that these reusable cooling cubes can easily be moulded or cut to any shape and size needed. These cubes also have the power to change colour according to their surrounding temperature.
The researchers eventually hope to use recycled agriculture waste or byproducts as the coolant material in order to make it more sustainable.
What inspired the researchers to come up with the idea of reusable ice-cubes was to reduce water consumption. The cooling cubes are reusable and can save a lot of water. Its eco-friendly qualities make it a perfect fit for the mission to reduce plastic pollution. Also, hydrogel is biodegradable as well as compostable. Unlike plastic freezer packs, at the end of their useful life, they won’t leave behind long-surviving plastic waste. A win-win situation for all, isn’t it?
Jelly ice cubes aren’t ready for prime use yet. “This is a prototype. As we move forward, there will be additional improvements,” said Luxin Wang, a microbiologist working on this project.
Having said that, jelly cubes could soon take over the regular ice packs as they have the potential to reduce water consumption and environmental impact. They are ideal for companies that prepare meals, and for shipping businesses and food producers who are required to keep food items cold. And who knows, soon they could even replace the ice in your cold drinks! A lot of research is going around making less polluting plastics and alternatives. Did you know that the advantages of bioplastics over regular plastics is the main reason why it is fast becoming popular.
Do you think jelly ice cubes are better than regular ice cubes? Let us know in the comments below.
Books are Tanaya Goswami’s first love and cheesecakes come a close second. Talking about movies, music, calligraphy, politics, and Elon Musk will get you listed under the friends’ section of her diary. Ever since moving on from her job as an English lecturer, she spends her time at BYJU’S crafting stories filled with emotion and sprinkled with sarcasm. Outside of work, she’s either learning something new (French, most recently!) or is curled up with a book and a cup of coffee. She firmly believes that discovering what you don’t know is the key to knowledge and is constantly working towards improving herself. Drop in a line at [email protected] if you liked her stories, have something nice to say, or if you have compelling ideas to share!
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