Materials

Freezable hydrogel offers a reusable alternative to ice cubes

Freezable hydrogel offers a re...
Each jelly ice cube reportedly lasts for 12 freeze/thaw cycles, and can be composted once discarded
Each jelly ice cube reportedly lasts for 12 freeze/thaw cycles, and can be composted once discarded
View 2 Images
The jelly ice cubes can withstand a load of up to 22 lb (10 kg) without deforming
1/2
The jelly ice cubes can withstand a load of up to 22 lb (10 kg) without deforming
Each jelly ice cube reportedly lasts for 12 freeze/thaw cycles, and can be composted once discarded
2/2
Each jelly ice cube reportedly lasts for 12 freeze/thaw cycles, and can be composted once discarded

When it comes to keeping things cold, ice cubes are hard to beat … although the things do melt, never to be used again. Scientists have set about addressing that limitation, with reusable water-based "jelly ice cubes" that hold their shape at all temperatures.

Developed by a team at the University of California - Davis, the cubes are made of a hydrogel consisting of 10 percent protein-derived gelatine and 90 percent water.

The material can be cut into any size or shape needed. It's transparent and jiggly at room temperature, but becomes hard and opaque once frozen. The cubes made from it can be used for applications such as keeping perishable foods cold while in storage or in transit … just like regular ice cubes.

Unlike such cubes, however, the jelly ice cubes won't melt into a puddle as the ice within them thaws. Instead, the water remains within the hydrogel matrix, for subsequent refreezing and reuse. In fact, each cube can reportedly be reused 12 times without degradation – just a simple rinsing-off in water or diluted bleach is required between each use.

And because the cubes contain no synthetic compounds, they can be composted once discarded. In order to make them even more eco-friendly, the scientists are now looking into using agricultural waste as a base for the gelatine.

The jelly ice cubes can withstand a load of up to 22 lb (10 kg) without deforming
The jelly ice cubes can withstand a load of up to 22 lb (10 kg) without deforming

Along with saving the water that would be required to keep making new ice cubes, the jelly ice cubes should additionally help reduce cross-contamination in facilities such as food processing plants. This is because unlike regular ice cubes, they don't melt into the form of bacteria-carrying liquid water that flows from one food item to another.

A paper on the research – which is being led by Prof. Gang Sun and PhD graduate student Jiahan Zou – was recently published in the journal Sustainable Chemistry & Engineering.

Source: University of California - Davis

2 comments
2 comments
Al B.
Is water waste due to ice cubes really significant enough to warrant this? Won't folks wanna wash off the ice cube before reusing it anyway? This seems like it may lead to more water waste than regular ice.
Aross
Since cold things sweat in humid environments these things will still create puddles of water which could attract or contain bacteria. In addition the need to use water and chlorine does not seem like a better option than to use water to make ice cubes. This looks like a solution looking for a problem.