Plastic-Free ‘Jelly’ Ice Cubes Are Moldable and Reusable

Anybody who’s used plastic ice cubes knows there are some pluses and some minuses. The main minuses being that they consist of plastic and often taste kind of gross. Now, researchers at the University of California, Davis, have developed “cooling cubes” that definitely solve at least one of those problems: “jelly” ice cubes that don’t use plastic but are still reusable and even moldable.

DesignTAXI reported on the jelly cubes, which their inventors began working on after one of them saw the amount of ice that fish-processing plants use. As well as the risk for cross-contamination that meltwater from such plants poses when it drains.

A scientist holds up a jelly ice cube that's able to be reused, recycled, and used more efficiently and healthfully than normal ice.
UC Davis

The jelly cubes consist of 90% water but differentiate themselves with the use of a gelatin hydrogel structure. Hydrogels are hydrophilic polymers that don’t dissolve in water. And gelatin, of course, is a flavorless food ingredient commonly derived from animal collagen.

As for the actual jelly ice cubes, which the researchers outlined in a study published in the journal Sustainability and Chemical Engineering, they have some solid stats. The researchers say the cubes can cool things for up to 13 hours. They can also handle weights up to 22 pounds without losing form. People can also use the cubes up to a dozen times, with a simple washing between uses. (Which is also possible with regular reusable cubes, but, again, no plastic with these squishy chillers.)

“We want to make sure [the cubes are] sustainable,” Luxin Wang, an associate professor at UC Davis and lead author of the study, said in a press release. “The amount of ice used by these fish-processing sites is massive,” the associate professor added. Wang also said that “we need to control the pathogens” at the markets. This would be one way to do that.

Jelly Ice Cubes
Gregory Urquiaga / UC Davis

As for practical near-term uses, the researchers seem to look at ice packs in shipping packages. Specifically, these jelly ice cubes would come in handy for meal prep companies and food producers who need to keep items cold. There’s no word yet on whether or not these jelly cubes will actually land directly in our drinks, though. But if they do, they could make quite a splash.

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