The soft, rounded contours of NanoIce, less than 1 micron in
In the food shipping industry, freshness is king. While
refrigeration works, it’s not always possible to keep products refrigerated on
a plane or when food is transferred from ship to railcar, so sensitive products
like fresh fish are typically packed in ice chips. But tiny air pockets among
the ice chips allow warm air and bacteria to reach the meat. Consequently, as
much as 7 percent of the shipped product typically spoils, leading to billions
of dollars in waste.
Now Seattle-based NanoIce has developed a better ice maker.
Invented in Iceland by Snaebjorn Tr. Gudnason, the NanoIce machine creates tiny
ice “fractures,” more than 250 of which could fit in the width of a human hair.
The tiny ice pieces are contoured so they can rest closely together, creating
an almost solid mass that helps keep food fresher and colder over long periods
of time. The ice also creates a barrier that prevents bacteria from slipping
through to touch the food.
Craig Rominger, the CEO and president of NanoIce, says that
fishermen can now keep fish packaged for 19 days at sea and still label it
fresh when they return. “We’re able to preserve fresh food longer than anyone
on the planet,” he says, “and this is a fresh food model—we’re not freezing
anything.” The Pike Place Fish Market will begin showcasing NanoIce in January
2011 to help demonstrate its ability to increase shelf life and decrease loss.
Rominger says NanoIce can play a major part in the food industry, which is
worth $30 billion a year in the Americas alone.
NanoIce provides its machines to processors and shippers at
no upfront cost, but then collects data about the amount of ice used. The price
to use the machine is based on the savings per pound of product and the extra
profit to the user. “Companies can actually budget for the cost of the NanoIce
that they use, and if there are no savings, no increased revenue, there is no
payment. Nothing but upside for the customer,” Rominger explains.
The technology also has applications outside of the domestic
fishing and food industry. Rominger hopes to have machines operating in Africa
soon to help small-town fishermen get their seafood to distant markets. NanoIce
can ensure that none of a fisherman’s daily catch spoils on the boat ride home.
And in the store, where fish is often exposed to open air and bacteria, the ice
can increase the fish’s shelf life from one to five days.
NanoIce completed a round of financing in
early October, raising $500,000, and has plans to start a $2 million round this
winter. Rominger estimates the company will turn a profit by 2012.