Malaysians Win UK Award For Tempeh-Inspired Packaging That Reduces Plastic Waste

The Packaging in Carageenan and Starch (PICAS) Block is made from Irish moss and tapioca starch.

Cover image via Ivan Ling

Four Malaysian PhD students have won a Global Challenge Award by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET) for their tempeh-inspired packaging

Image via Ivan Ling

Team NanoMalaysia - made up of PhD students 27-year-old Ivan Ling, 28-year-old Pauline Phoon Bao Lee, 28-year-old Tan Chin Joo, and 27-year-old Ong Chong Cheen - won the Greenpeace-supported IET Global Challenge award.

The challenge called for reusable packaging design ideas or new approaches for British supermarkets to dramatically reduce their need for plastic packaging, reported The IET.

Called 'PICAS Block', the team's invention provides an alternative to packing dried, loose products using Irish moss and tapioca starch

PICAS Block.

Image via Ivan Ling

In the team's video, project leader Ivan Ling explains that the loose items are held together by a clear layer made with starch, while a layer of carrageenan envelops it to prevent moisture from getting in.

"These blocks are only soluble in hot water and it is also extremely durable," Ling explains in the video.

"Not only is it more convenient, but it tastes just the same."

A PICAS Block dissolving in water.

Image via Ivan Dragneel/YouTube

Speaking to SAYS, Ling said that the team's invention was inspired by a local favourite food - tempeh

"We tested different binding materials, including gelatin, sugar, alginate, etc," he explained to SAYS.

"But we settled down for a combination of starch as a binder and carageenan as a protective layer, as it provides the best performance after considering the trade-offs."

"It took us about nine months since the competition [began] to get everything prepared. When we first read the problem statement, we [had] no idea how to start," Ling added.

"Then, [I] came [up] with this idea of packaging beans in blocks. These blocks can be sold alongside fruits, and can be placed directly [into] shopping baskets without needing an additional bag."

Along with the recognition, the team will be given a GBP500 (RM2,685) cash prize and an all-expenses-paid trip to London to attend IET's prestigious Innovation Awards ceremony

During the ceremony, their invention will winning invention will be revealed to the audience, reported The IET.

Speaking to SAYS, Ling said, "Obviously we are really happy with the results. As you know, single use plastic is a huge problem in Malaysia, and we are really proud to be able to play our small part in solving this issue."

Image via Ivan Ling

The team is currently thinking of possibilities in commercialising the PICAS Block.

"Interestingly, our team's name 'NanoMalaysia' was actually trademarked by NanoMalaysia Berhad, but after talking to their representatives, they have allowed us to keep the team name, as it represents Nanotechnology is Malaysia (sic)," Ling said, adding that the team is talking with the company for a possible collaboration.

You can watch a video of the team's award-winning design below:

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