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NO.337 08.03.2017

Functional Nanocomposite Materials Open New Avenue for Food Package Industry

Professor Jong-Hwan Rhim of the Department of Food Science & Technology won the Grand Academia Award at the 2017 Annual Meeting of the Korean Society of Food Science and Technology

The Grand Academia Award is given to the scholar who achieved the greatest academic impact in that year. Professor Rhim received the award in recognition of his contribution to the biodegradable nanocomposite polymer food packaging materials.

Professor Rhim, who was named in 2016 as one of the most influential scholars in the world in the field of agricultural science by Thompson Reuter, has published more than 200 articles over the last twenty years, rated as the top 1% in the world in the criterion of Citation per Professor in the last eleven years.

Improving food safety, environmental waste, and reducing dependence on fossil fuel
Professor Rhim has been working on adding bio-nanocomposites onto biodegradable materials to create functional new food packaging. He said, “The advent of nanotechnology in food packaging has brought on a completely new horizon.” Nanocomposites can increase the physical strength of the material and improve the barrier properties against the diffusion of oxygen, carbon dioxide, flavor compounds, and water vapor. They can also be designed to have new functions such as antimicrobial, anti-oxidization, UV protection, and others. Professor Rhim said, “Consumers these days tend to avoid preservatives and antimicrobial chemicals added to the food item. Instead, it is safer and more consumer-friendly to relegate that function to the food packaging by controlling bacterial ingress with the antimicrobial properties built into the packaging material. Zinc-oxide and silver nanocomposites, for instance, have a proven track record of safety as functional food-additives. If we weave these into the packaging material, however, it will be safer and more effective than putting them directly into the food item.“


Nanocomposites to replace petroleum-based polymers
Plastic and other petroleum-based polymers, the current mainstay of food packaging materials, are not biodegradable and liable to cause waste problems, and their dependence on fossil fuel limits their future prospect. Sustainable, biodegradable nanocomposites and bio-polymers are increasingly becoming the research focus to replace them. Professor Rhim said, “We are working on biodegradable packaging materials that can replace the current plastic food wrapping. The main problem with the bio-polymers is the low tensile strength, and we are experimenting with diverse nanocomposites to strengthen the bio-polymers while maintaining the environmental-friendliness.”

Professor Rhim, who joined the faculty of Kyung Hee Department of Food Science and Biotechnology in the first semester of 2017, is currently researching at the Humanity Convergence Research Center. He expressed high hopes for the convergence research in conjunction with Kyung Hee’s acclaimed medical science. He said, “It will be great to do a convergence research with the accumulated knowledge of packaging material for the use in medical, pharmaceutical, and Korean Medicine at Kyung Hee Medical Center.”


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