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Scalable manufacturing of sustainable packaging materials with tunable thermoregulability

Abstract

The implementation of innovative packaging solutions in the food and beverage industry is playing an increasingly important role in driving the global transformation towards sustainability. Within this context, the metallized polymer films most widely used for packaging, which feature static infrared reflecting properties, need to be replaced by green and low-cost alternative materials with highly desirable dynamic thermoregulability. Here we demonstrate the scalable manufacturing of squid-skin-inspired sustainable packaging materials with tunable heat-management properties. The reported composites feature a low estimated starting material cost of around US$0.1 m−2, sizes comparable to those of common metallized plastic films, the ability to modulate infrared transmittance by >20-fold and heat fluxes by >30 W m−2 upon actuation with strain, and functional robustness after mechanical deformation or cycling. Furthermore, the composites demonstrate excellent performance in routine practical packaging scenarios, as exemplified by their ability to control the cooling of a model warm beverage within a standard paper container used daily by most adults in the USA. Such materials could represent a technological solution that addresses the combined cost, performance and sustainability pressures facing the food and beverage packaging industry.

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Fig. 1: An overview of heat-managing food and beverage packaging and of squid-skin-inspired dynamic thermoregulatory composite materials.
Fig. 2: The mechanical properties and surface morphologies of the large-area composite materials.
Fig. 3: Adaptive infrared functionality of the large-area composite materials.
Fig. 4: Tunable heat-management properties of the large-area composite materials.
Fig. 5: Dynamic thermoregulatory capability of the large-area composite materials in a beverage packaging application.

Data availability

All data needed to evaluate the stated conclusions are present in the main text and/or in the Supplementary Information.

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Acknowledgements

The authors thank Dr. Steven Jim for valuable discussions and helpful input. The authors acknowledge the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (cooperative agreement D19AC00003 to A.A.G.), the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (cooperative agreement DE-AR0000534 to A.A.G.) and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research (grant FA2386-14-1-3026 to A.A.G.) for their financial support. The authors acknowledge the use of facilities and instrumentation at the UC Irvine Materials Research Institute (IMRI), which is supported in part by the National Science Foundation through the UC Irvine Materials Research Science and Engineering Center (DMR-2011967).

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Authors

Contributions

A.A.G. conceived the idea, designed the experiments and supervised the research. M.A.B., E.M.L., P.L. and A.A.S. fabricated the composite materials. M.A.B. performed the SEM imaging and mechanical characterization measurements. M.A.B., E.M.L. and A.A.S. performed the infrared spectroscopy experiments. A.A.S. developed and performed the computational analyses. M.A.B., P.L. and A.A.S. conducted the thermal measurements and assisted with the data interpretation. M.A.B., E.M.L. and A.A.G. wrote the manuscript. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Alon A. Gorodetsky.

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Competing interests

M.A.B., E.M.L., P.L., A.A.S. and A.A.G. are listed as authors on an invention disclosure to the University of California, Irvine, that describes the design, manufacturing and applications of the reported sustainable bioinspired packaging materials.

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Nature Sustainability thanks Ling Wang and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–16, Notes 1 and 2, and Tables 1–3.

Supplementary Video 1

Side-by-side thermal infrared camera movies demonstrating the repeated successful mechanical deformation of an enclosure-integrated blanket-like composite with a hand (left) and the repeated attempted mechanical deformation of an enclosure-integrated traditional blanket with a hand (right). Note the substantial change in local apparent temperature induced by the hand for the blanket-like composite.

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Badshah, M.A., Leung, E.M., Liu, P. et al. Scalable manufacturing of sustainable packaging materials with tunable thermoregulability. Nat Sustain 5, 434–443 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-022-00847-2

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