At the iNet Innovation Awards in the East Midlands, the UK, the School of Science and Technology at the university won the title of Food and Drink iNet Innovation Champion 2009. Scientists led by Dr Fennge Gao, reader in nanotechnology, took the prize for their development of a new technology that permits the use of anti-microbial materials in plastic food packaging by solving the problem of leaching.
Gao said anti-microbials are rarely used in food and beverage packaging because of leaching. By using nanofillers and developing an antimicrobial nanocomposite, Gao and his team were able to fix this problem, and protect plastic from microorganisms.
Ultimately, the innovation will help extend the shelf life of food and drink products, but Gao said its value added features make it particularly suitable for sensitive beverages.
Barrier properties preventing oxygen penetrating packaging make the innovation particularly attractive to soft drink makers, and even beer manufacturers.
Glass is almost always used for packaging beer but an innovation such as this, according to Gao, could open up the industry to plastic, leading to significant weight reduction, and transport and energy savings. Because the nanofillers are extremely thin they also have no effect on the appearance of packaging.
Judges of the regional iNet Innovation Awards were convinced that the technology has significant potential, and therefore presented Nottingham Trent University with the top innovation prize at an awards dinner attended by about 150 representatives of the East Midlands food and drink sector.
The judges said: “This product has the potential to revolutionise the packaging industry and represents a big shift in thinking.”
On receiving the award, Gao said: “We were happy to use our considerable expertise in this area to provide a pragmatic solution to very real and everyday problems for the food and drink industry. To have our efforts recognised with this award is a real honour for Nottingham Trent University."
The next step in the development of the technology is the creation of industry collaborations to further test the innovation in a real life context, and see to what extent it can really extend the shelf life of food and drink products.