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Ketchup Kept On The Run

Ketchup Kept On The Run

By Katherine Ball

Ketchup lovers of the world – rejoice! No longer will you have to shake, rattle and roll the last drops of your beloved tomato-based condiment out of the bottle in order to enjoy your rickets-inducing supper of chips and cheese.

Praise-be to the boffins at Munich University of Technology, various other institutions and the combined efforts of the excessively long-winded Fraunhofer Institutes for Process Engineering and Packaging IVV in Freising and the Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology IGB in Stuttgart – acronyms, anyone? This German super-team have devised a massively important way of coating the interior of ketchup bottles to make sure every last drop comes out with the ease of water sliding off a duck’s back. And thank God for that; the world can at last get a restful night’s sleep.

OK, so it probably isn’t a life-changing, world-saving, nobel prize-winning scientific achievement but it does have its uses. For a start, the coating will mean that the bottles can be recycled much more easily and cheaply as the expensive and time-consuming cleaning methods used to remove remnants of the sticky sauce can be scrapped. And for the average ketchup addict this chemical concoction has its uses too. Apparently, up to 20% of the contents of a ketchup bottle can be left behind even after a really good squeezing session so in effect you’re wasting up to one bottle out of every five you buy. That’s a lot of chips people.

So, to the science bit. What exactly have the verbose Germans done here that is so special? They’ve produced a coating applied which is applied to the inside of the ketchup bottle which changes the properties of the outward surface without altering the chemistry or properties of the plastic. The film is extremely thin, less than 20 nanometres – that’s about 0.000000002 m – and is made up of a type of plasma similar to that found in neon lamps.

The process occurs in a vacuum where gases are ignited by applying high voltages. Different coatings can be applied with defined properties depending on the proportions of electrons, ions, neutrons and photons in the luminous gas mixture which is created. Research is still taking place to refine the properties of the final product but the coatings are expected to be available on products in about two or three years’ time.

So for the near future we will have to tirelessly continue our battle against the rouge ketchup particles that refuse to budge, but we can look to the future with a renewed hope as we await the heroic arrival of the plasma-coated bottles. And in the meantime, remember – ketchup is thixotrophic (a bit like quicksand) which means that if you give the bottle a blummin’ good shake before you use it you can trick even the shyest of ketchup blobs out of the bottle. Saucy stuff.

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Image: Jasper Greek Golangco

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22 Sep 2009
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