New material could solve one of life’s greatest first-world problems

27 Jun 2016

A newly developed material for the plastic used in bottles and tubes promises to end the pain of squeezing that last bit of soap out of the container, and we’ll all be thankful for it.

While much research is focused on developing answers to some of the world’s greatest concerns – such as climate change, energy demand and food production – there are some researchers out there who are helping to solve some not-so crucial problems.

So news that a team from Ohio State University (OSU) has developed a new material that strikes the perfect balance to allow liquids in plastic bottles and tubing to easily dispense is somewhat pleasing.

A glass-like structure

Imagine, all that hassle of trying to squeeze out the last drop of soap from a dispenser will be no more.

According to OSU, engineers Bharat Bhushan and Philip Brown have published the science of their new material in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

To create the perfected material, the pair lined a plastic bottle with microscopic Y-shaped structures consisting of smaller nanoparticles made of silica or quartz, which creates a glass-like surface. This then cradles the droplets of soap aloft above tiny air pockets so that the soap never actually touches the inside of the bottle, allowing it to dispense cleanly and easily.

The new material is less expensive than current materials and is a lot simpler, too.

Helps recycling

While materials already exist for helping liquids dispense from bottles – ketchup being the obvious example – Bhushan said that soap is an altogether different problem due to its low surface tension making it stick to plastic easily.

Aside from just making our lives minutely easier, it’s believed that this new material could also greatly aid recycling.

Bhushan added that, during the process, all bottles must be completely clean before they are eligible for recycling but, due to the difficulty of doing this, many of the bottles end up going to waste.

“It’s what you’d call a first-world problem, right? ‘I can’t get all of the shampoo to come out of the bottle,’” Bhushan said. “But manufacturers are really interested in this, because they make billions of bottles that end up in the garbage with product still in them.”

With a patent now pending for the material, the team at OSU hopes to license the coating technique to manufacturers for other plastic products with more beneficial uses, such as medical equipment like catheters.

Soap dispenser image via Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic