Printed electronics and nanosensors for intelligent packaging at MSU

The US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) National Institute of Food and Agriculture has awarded Michigan State University (MSU) close to $500,000 for a project exploring intelligent packaging, combining nanoscale sensors with printed electronics able to transmit data about freshness and spoilage.
The project, ‘Fully Printed Electronics and Energy Devices via Low-dimensional Nanomaterials for Smart Packaging’, is the brainchild of Changyong Cao, assistant professor in MSU’s School of Packaging and director of the university’s Soft Machines and Electronics Laboratory.
The objective is to reduce food waste by ensuring it is stored and handled properly as it progresses through the supply chain, says the MSU website.
The flexible tags under development will incorporate several nanomaterial-based sensors able to detect, for instance, temperature change and signs of spoilage. But unlike many current examples of intelligent packaging relying on qualitative colour-change indicators, this will include wireless transmitters for relaying data to supply-chain operators.
“This will give you more quantitative data and, because of that, more confidence,” says Changyong Cao, who is also an assistant professor in MSU’s Departments of Mechanical Engineering and of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE). “The packaging itself may not cost a lot, but its value is actually very high in protecting food safety and the consumer’s health.”
Other professors working on the project include Andrew Mason and Prem Chahal of the ECE Department and Yanbin Li, an expert on biosensors at the University of Arkansas.
The USDA estimates that between 30% and 40% of the country’s food, with a value of over $160 billion, is lost or wasted each year.