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The sterilization of plastic containers for beverage, food and pharmaceutical products is a significant cost to the associated industries. Currently, plastic containers are sterilized using heat, which necessitates the use of polymers that can withstand the high temperature without degrading or deforming. These heat resistant polymers have a cost of up to 1.7 times that of comparable lower temperature products. As such, any improvements in the sterilization process will have a large economic impact.
Additionally, carbonated beverage product bottles are often treated with large volumes of high temperature water and/or steam, which can be a significant issue in less developed countries, where potable water can be at a premium, as well as the energy required to heat the water.
A new technology using cold plasma discharge has been developed at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory that promises to lower the cost of sterilization of plastic containers.
Researchers at Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory have developed a new process for sterilization of plastic containers does not employ heat, gamma radiation steam, hot water, or chemical agents. The method uses a cold plasma discharge under partial vacuum conditions. This new method lends itself to high speeds and volumes as sterilization takes place in seconds. The process uses non-exotic equipment. A functional prototype of the equipment has been tested. Patent protection has been granted, US 6,667,007 and 6,403,029, both entitled "System and Method of Applying Energetic Ions for Sterilization".