Australian researchers have developed a method of encapsulating ethylene gas into powder which they claim can improve fruit quality and cut down the distribution time of produce to market.
The method is more commercially viable and easier to adopt than current practices, said the materials scientists from The University of Queensland (UQ).
It involves ripening fruit while in transit, cutting down on the up to 10-day delay from fruit leaving the farm to being available on the shelf.
Compressed ethylene gas is used to control ripen fruit such as bananas, mangoes, avocadoes, citrus and tomatoes picked at commercial maturity, which is a hard green, before ripening has started.
It is not usually possible to use ethylene gas cylinders in transit due to difficulties in dosing from the compressed gas cylinders and the risk of the cylinders exploding.
Currently, most fruit is ripened in large ripening rooms at or near their point of consumption, which causes a significant delay in the supply chain and forces producers to rely upon the ripening infrastructure in most of the major consumer markets around the world, said the scientists.
The team anticipate the cost of producing ethylene powder will be less than ripening room treatment.
Professor Bhesh Bhandari and PhD student Binh Ho, from UQ's School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, said in their method the ethylene gas is released at a rate that depends on the temperature and humidity conditions and the encapsulation process.
The research team identified a starch derivative biological material, which has cavities in its crystalline structure that can encapsulate the ethylene gas, which is released from the complex powder when the temperature and humidity is raised.
The technology, called RipeStuff, is aimed at improving the safety, efficiency and effort involved in the controlled ripening of fruit.
Trials and market potential
In a trial last year less than 100 grams of the ethylene powder was used to control the ripening of 20 tonnes of mangoes during a three day transit from Darwin to Adelaide, resulting in the fruit being ready for market six days before mangoes that were not ripened, said the researchers.
The commercialisation company of the university, Uniquest Pty, will undertake small scale manufacture, develop packaging and delivery systems and start international trials next year.
Once industrial proof of principle has been established the start-up will establish commercial production capacity and begin distribution to the UK and USA in 2013 or 2014 with potential to licence the technology to third parties depending on success.