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Shape-shifting pasta: Hebrew University researchers unveil ultra space efficient solution

April 16, 2022
Food & Drink

Researchers at the Hebrew University, Israel, have developed a technique for manufacturing pasta that can be “preprogrammed” for specific shape-shifting when boiled. The researchers say the technique will help save packaging space and enhance user engagement.

Led by professor Eran Sharon and Ido Levin of the Racah Institute of Physics, Faculty of Science, the research team’s shape-shifting pasta is manufactured flat and straight and flat-packed into low volume straight boxes. However, when boiled, the pasta takes on twisty, twirly shapes.

Professor Eran Sharon, chair of the Racah Institute of Physics, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, tells PackagingInsights: “Packing of flat sheets is the most efficient way, getting close to 100% efficiency, compared to typically 60-70% optimal packing of 3D elements.”

“This [space efficiency] implies significant savings in shipping and storage costs. Our shape-shifting pasta technology has the potential to transform the manufacturing, transportation and storage process,” adds Sharon.

Flat-packed savings
Pasta such as fettuccine, linguine and spaghetti are elongated, straight and flat-packed for transport in small volume boxes. Their twirl, twisty, elbow, bowtie counterparts, however, are packaged in space consuming large volume boxes.

The researchers explain their technological findings mean pasta can be stored in less bulky packaging, essentially in flat-pack format, whereas pasta pre-made in shapes such as fusilli or farfalle often has empty spaces to accommodate the 3D shapes.

Further advantages of flat-pack pasta packaging are:

  • Saves space for transport and storage.
  • Can be “preprogrammed” for specific shape-shifting with a wide range of configurations.
  • Enhances user engagement.
  • Large sheets can be cut at home for a creative and fun experience.
  • Manufacturing is inexpensive and simple (not involving 3D printing.)

All in the idea
Sharon says the real challenge was coming up with the idea and realizing that what happens in a plant seed pod or a gel sheet in the lab should also work in a simple pasta sheet.

“The implementation went surprisingly smoothly and there were no real technical challenges. It is as if it was waiting to be discovered and then everything was there.”

The team says it is seeking to commercialize the manufacturing technique, which it claims could reduce packaging and, in turn, cut carbon emissions for producers.

Scalability potential
Yissum – the technology transfer company of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem – made the announcement on the “breakthrough technology” and will be working with the research team to scale it. Dr. Itzik Goldwaser, CEO of Yissum, says: “The global packaging industry is long overdue for innovation and Professor Sharon and Dr Levin’s shape-shifting pasta can deliver a creative solution with a major impact.”

Sharon explains they have found out that the team, which consists of physicists and designers is an “excellent” match, “as the entire invention is based on new developments in SoftMatter physics, there is a need for the scientific expertise in both pointing to new options and in problem solving.”

“The designers introduce the human aspect – the potential to affect people and the environment, as well as intensive and rapid research actions.”

The cost of wasted space
According to a recent study from Forbes Insights, non-optimized packaging can increase emissions and cost, as well as mostly being at least 25% air – apparently meaning companies are paying to ship air and losing out on valuable transportation space in the process.

“The potential of this [pasta] technology is immense, and I look forward to seeing it outside of the lab ‘wowing’ consumers and providing a positive impact to consumer and business alike,” asserts Sharon.

“The ability to reduce shipping and storage costs, while also adding carbon savings that enable a rebrand pasta as an environmentally friendly choice is a win for everyone involved. We’re excited to help this project make the jump from lab to grocery aisle in the near future.”

By Natalie Schwertheim


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