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Next generation plastics promises fresher foods and medicines and better protection for surfaces

High-tech plastics for better food and medicine packaging as well as more durable paints and varnishes will be developed by a new Industrial Coating and Packaging (ICAP) consortium, helmed by the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE), a research institute of Singapore’s Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR).

Food that stays fresher for longer and varnishes that keep furniture looking new is the goal of new plastic technologies to be developed by a consortium set up by A*STAR’s IMRE and its industry partners. In its first industry-themed project, the new ICAP consortium will develop transparent plastics that better protect foods and medicines from oxidation and keep them fresher for longer by blocking oxygen, moisture and UV rays.

“Plastics make up about 40% of most packaging materials with the market set to grow at a faster rate than any other packaging material used today. However, current plastic packaging has its limitations as it allows diffusion of oxygen, moisture and UV light compared to materials like aluminium or tin. This oxidises and degrades perishables like food and pharmaceuticals”, says Dr Li Xu, the IMRE senior scientist who is leading the first ICAP project. “The ICAP team will be using IMRE’s advanced capabilities to develop new technologies to overcome these limitations. The plastics we develop should also require less energy to produce and allow consumers to see the actual perishable products compared to today’s opaque aluminium-plastic packaging materials. The same technology may also be used to make paints and varnishes that protect surfaces with air-tight coatings and block oxidising UV and near infrared rays”, adds Dr Li. The technology can also be adapted to make transparent surface coatings with improved hardness, UV blocking and oxidation-resistant for use in paints and varnishes.

"Today, consumers want everything cheap and good; this translates to research demands. We need a new generation of food packaging that go beyond their usual functions. For example, packaging that helps food stay fresh and last longer, or with a built-in security feature that deters tampering or even one that lights up when food turns sour!”, says Prof Andy Hor, IMRE’s Executive Director. “The secret may lie in IMRE’s novel layer-by-layer technology of stacking of modified clay sheets. ICAP members will have access to that”, adds Prof Hor.

ICAP was conceived in response to the needs of packaging and coating manufacturers who were seeing an increasing demand for high-performance, customised packaging and coatings for critical components and equipment, consumer care, automotive, aerospace, oil and gas industries. Through such a partnership, new and innovative technologies like IMRE’s packaging and coating can be placed directly into the hands of relevant companies thus shortening the time-to-market of new products. The consortium currently comprises core member companies including Nestle R&D Center (Pte) Ltd, Daibochi Plastic And Packaging Industry Berhad, Texplore Co., Ltd. (subsidiary company of SCG Chemicals Co., Ltd), Nipo International Pte Ltd and Piaget Chemicals & Manufacturing Pte Ltd.

“We are very impressed with the tech-level of the research and we are excited about the prospects of the application of this technology. We are confident that this technology can grow our business in modified clay additives and create endless possibilities for new materials”, said Mr Chua Leng Keong, Managing Director of Piaget Chemicals & Manufacturing Pte Ltd.

“The modified-clay technology that IMRE is developing can potentially enhance the heat insulation and UV protection when applied to building surfaces”, said Ms Amanda Khoo, Director of Nipo International Pte Ltd.

“We will now have greater options for using easily processable, flexible, transparent and resource-friendly plastics compared to the conventional aluminium and metal-based films in keeping food fresher for longer”, said Mr Thomas Lim, Managing Director of Daibochi Plastic And Packaging Industry Berhad.

Companies have shown great interest and support for this initiative as the ICAP consortium will serve as a platform that enables companies to reduce R&D risks and investments in new coating and packaging technologies by pooling R&D resources in joint projects.
"This consortium presents an opportunity to interface with highly skilled technical and commercial professionals to produce a great platform for new products and applications", commented Dr Suracha Udomsak, Managing Director of Texplore Co., Ltd.

The ICAP project for the new plastics will span one and a half years. Some of ICAP’s future projects may include coatings that are highly precise and uniform to fit any shape; abrasion and scratch-resistant hard coatings; heat shielding and sound attenuation coatings; and coatings for deep sea environments. The ICAP consortium will be launched on IMRE’s Industry Day, held on 18 Jan 2012, which is an event that recognises IMRE’s industry partners and the success of various industry R&D joint projects over the past year.
For media enquiries, please contact:

Mr Eugene Low
Manager, Corporate Communications
for Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)
3, Research Link
Singapore 117602
DID +65 6874 8491
Mobile +65 9230 9235

For enquiries on ICAP, please contact:

Mr Rick Ong
Industry Development Manager
Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)
3, Research Link
Singapore 117602
DID +65 65131198
A*STAR Corporate Profiles

About the Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE)
The Institute of Materials Research and Engineering (IMRE) is a research institute of the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR). The Institute has capabilities in materials analysis & characterisation, design & growth, patterning & fabrication, and synthesis & integration. We house a range of state-of-the-art equipment for materials research including development, processing and characterisation. IMRE conducts a wide range of research, which includes novel materials for organic solar cells, photovoltaics, printed electronics, catalysis, bio-mimetics, microfluidics, quantum dots, heterostructures, sustainable materials, atom technology, etc. We collaborate actively with other research institutes, universities, public bodies, and a wide spectrum of industrial companies, both globally and locally.
About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)
The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is the lead agency for fostering world-class scientific research and talent for a vibrant knowledge-based and innovation-driven Singapore. A*STAR oversees 14 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research institutes, and six consortia & centres, located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis as well as their immediate vicinity.

A*STAR supports Singapore's key economic clusters by providing intellectual, human and industrial capital to its partners in industry. It also supports extramural research in the universities, and with other local and international partners. For more information about A*STAR, please visit

Lee Swee Heng | Research asia research news
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