Magazine article National Defense

Nanoscience Promises Better Battlefield Rations

Magazine article National Defense

Nanoscience Promises Better Battlefield Rations

Article excerpt

Researchers at the U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center in Natick, Mass., are improving combat ration packaging by replacing the layers of aluminum foil with nanocomposite films to make the packaging more resilient, lighter and less wasteful.

"With nanotechnology, you can get those improvements," said Jo Ann Ratto, a polymer research engineer working on the project.

Meals ready to eat, or MREs, come in a packaging system consisting of an outer meal bag, made from a thermoplastic polyolefin, that holds all the food components. A retortable, four-layer pouch--made of aluminum foil, polyethylene, nylon and polyester--holds the entree. Smaller items, such as crackers, are wrapped inside three-layer foil packages.

Aluminum foil has been a favored food packaging material for decades because of its barrier properties. But there are disadvantages, said Jennifer Lucciarini, a materials engineer on the nanomaterials science team at Natick. Foil can be brittle and is susceptible to flex cracks and pin holes when subjected to freezing temperatures. On top of that, foil is non-recyclable, a factor that contributes to the amount of waste produced, she said.

The U.S. military consumes 46.6 million operational rations a year and generates 16,667 tons of ration-related waste in the field, said Ratto.

"There's about seven pounds of waste per soldier per day," she said. MRE packaging waste, including food, is .3 pounds per meal, she added.

"If we get rid of all the foil, we can have [the packaging] be recyclable. …

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