NEW powder technology is set to revolutionise the fresh fruit industry, according to new research by The University of Queensland.
Materials scientists from UQ have created technology that converts gases into a powder.
Professor Bhesh Bhandari and PhD student Binh Ho from UQ's School of Agriculture and Food Sciences have developed a powder they say will dramatically improve the safety, efficiency and effort involved in controlled ripening of fruit.
Prof Bhandari said compressed ethylene gas was used extensively to control ripened fruit such as bananas, mangoes, avocados, citrus and tomatoes that were picked at commercial maturity a hard green but mature stage before ripening has started.
He said the compressed ethylene gas, stored in cylinders, was highly volatile and explosive accidents had occurred in the past.
"Compressed gas can be expensive, difficult to handle and unsafe," Prof Bhandari said.
"To try to overcome these disadvantages, we have been looking at methods to encapsulate the gas in various types of solid materials to create a safe and convenient powder form."
The research team has identified a starch derivative which has cavities in its crystalline structure that can surround the ethylene gas.
Mr Ho said ethylene gas was released from the complex powder when the temperature and humidity were raised.
"We have developed a food-grade, environmentally friendly biological powder that can release the ethylene gas very quickly in humid and high temperature conditions," Mr Ho said.
"This would make handling the ethylene much easier and safer and allow for very small amounts to be used to ripen small batches of fruit.
"It could also potentially be placed in trucks that transport the fruit from the farm so that the fruit arrives at the market perfectly ripe."
Prof Bhandari presented his findings at the International Drying Symposium in China last week, where he was also presented with an international award in recognition of his research excellence in drying science and technology.