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SPECIAL REPORT: Processing Packaging Technology

Researchers invent afforable plastic circuit

Researchers have invented an affordable plastic circuit that they say could revolutionize the fresh food industry by allowing for freshness monitoring within packaging.

The plastic analog-to-digital converter unveiled earlier this year was designed with the goal of reducing food waste, according to the researchers, who presented their work at the International Solid-State Circuit Conference in San Francisco.

Scientists from Eindhoven University of Technology, The Netherlands, and University of Catania, Italy, worked with two companies — CEA-Liten in France and STMicroelectronics in Switzerland — to develop the technology, according to a news release.

A key advantage to the plastic circuits is their cost. The developers say they will cost less than one euro cent, making them inexpensive enough to be used in disposable packaging for fresh foods. The circuits would be part of a sensing device that could test the contents of a package to make sure it is safe to eat by measuring the level of acidity of the food.

“In principle, that’s all already possible using standard silicon (components). The only problem is they’re too expensive. They easily cost 10 cents,” researcher Eugenio Cantatore of Eindhoven University of Technology said in the release.

He said in the release that the plastic semiconductors can even be printed on all kinds of flexible surfaces, which makes them cheaper to use. The sensor circuits could be read with a scanner or mobile phone to show the freshness of produce or other foods.

Isabelle Chartier, printed electronics business developer at CEA-Liten, said in the release that the analog-to-digital converter has been the missing link in creating this kind of freshness-sensing technology.

“This paves the way toward large area sensors on plastic films in a cost-effective way through printing manufacturing approaches,” Chartier said in the release.

The researchers estimate it will be about five years before such sensor technology on packaging reaches grocery stores.


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