PepsiCo partners with EMSL to achieve major R&D advancement
A collaborative project between PepsiCo and EMSL to improve packing and sustainability of chip bags has received PepsiCo's Academy of Sciences Award, the company's most prestigious research and development honor that recognizes innovative products and breakthrough ideas.
"A chip bag is an incredibly advanced, innovative system, something that most consumers don't realize when opening a bag of Lay's or Doritos," says Ken Laverdure, one of the project leads from PepsiCo's food packaging division in Advanced Research. "When we combined the strength of PepsiCo's global R&D capabilities with the analytical horsepower of EMSL, we were able to deliver a quantum leap in technical understanding for the project.
"EMSL has some of the most advanced analytical capabilities in the industry and is a strong PepsiCo partner," he said.
PepsiCo's challenge to EMSL was to provide surface characterization and analysis of the layers of a chip bag. Chip bags have three distinct layers in the film: an outer layer to convey graphics, an inner layer to provide a barrier to maintain freshness, and a middle layer to glue the others together. Chip bags must maintain a certain product freshness and quality against light, oxygen, and moisture to meet consumers' expectations. Studies at EMSL addressed the need for a more robust barrier layer.
At EMSL, scientists used more than nine distinct instruments to study the film, including the facility's spectroscopy and microscopy capabilities. EMSL houses one of the most unique suites of microscopes in the world.
Mark Engelhard, EMSL project manager working with PepsiCo, explained that EMSL didn't just conduct the analysis and deliver data like an analytical lab might. Instead, the scientists interpreted the data and provided correlations that specifically led to improvements in the bag's performance.
Laverdure said, "This advancement has the potential to be a disruptive change in packaging. These new films are more economically and environmentally sustainable, and we believe our leadership in this area has the potential to give PepsiCo a significant competitive advantage."
More than 16 billion pounds of flexible packaging are produced each year, with 7.5 percent of those used in snack foods, according to PepsiCo.
"As a leader in the snack food category, we're committed to developing new ways to package and deliver our products to minimize their impact," Laverdure said.
As EMSL conducted the research, Laverdure found he had little need to closely manage the work. He visited EMSL twice during the research. Otherwise, he said, Engelhard was an excellent project manager who delivered results on time and with costs kept under control.
Engelhard enjoys the opportunity to collaborate with industry.
"We excel at fundamental studies yet have worked with industry since we opened 15 years ago," he said. "It's fulfilling to work with industry and see the results more immediately. At the same time, we wouldn't be able to help industry as much if we didn't also do basic research."
Laverdure indicated his team will continue looking to EMSL when they face technical challenges beyond their capabilities.
"We greatly appreciate the value and excellent results that EMSL brought to the table," he said. "Without a secure facility like EMSL, the program would have never advanced as quickly."
The EMSL team consisted of more than a dozen staff. Scientific members of the team included: Bruce Arey, Alice Dohnalkova, Mark Engelhard, Carrol Isaac, Scott Lea, Zhou Lu, Sandeep Manandhar, Theva Thevuthasan, Shutthananadan Vaithiyalingam, and Hongfei Wang. Supported members of the team included Eva Baroni, Linda Deal, Barbara Diehl, Ashley Gilbert, Connie Grytness and Michael Thompson.
The Department of Energy's Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time.