The ideal travel mug must have certain fundamental characteristics: It has to keep a drink hot or cold for at least a few hours, be comfortable to drink from, easy to grip and it has to be leak-proof.
Guyanese/Canadian Professor Suresh Narine, in collaboration with several graduate students, recently launched a company that manufactures a groundbreaking travel mug which supersedes the fundamental expectations in such an invention.
In Guyana and the region, Professor Suresh Narine is best known for his work with the Institute of Applied Science and Technology (IAST). His outstanding achievements with the institution have earned him one of the Caribbean’s most coveted awards – the Anthony N. Sabga Caribbean Award for Excellence in Science and Technology. This was in 2015.
Professor Narine has also been the driving force behind the newly launched Morning Glory Rice Cereal, the Rupununi Essence Facial Cleansers, the Pakaraima Flavours Sundried Tomato initiative and a host of other science and technology projects in Guyana.
Narine’s successes also stretch beyond these shores. He is one of the world’s foremost authorities in the challenging field of biomaterials; directs the Trent Centre for the Study of Biomaterials, and holds the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) of Canada Industrial Research Chair in Lipid Derived Biomaterials at Trent University. There, he is a senior Professor of Physics and Astronomy and Chemistry. He was also the Ontario Research Chair in Green Chemistry and Engineering. In this role, he has also received numerous awards and accolades.
Narine’s latest invention, the Prolong Travel Mug, has taken Guyana by storm. It has also caused a buzz in Canada, the United States and further afield, generating runaway sales through its online store at www.prolongmug.com.
Kaieteur News was on hand to witness the launch of the Prolong Travel Mug during a talk delivered by Narine at the University of Guyana on November 28, last.
Narine’s talk was titled “What does Organic Chemistry and Materials Physics have to do with designing the perfect cup of coffee and avoiding cancer of the esophagus?” Apparently everything! The exciting invention from the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research is a testimony of this.
The Prolong Travel Mug was officially launched at the Trent University Student Centre on December 1, last, just in time for the Holiday Season.
According to Narine, it rapidly reduces the temperature of hot beverages to a comfortable and safe 65oC within minutes, and maintains the temperature of the beverage in the “perfect” temperature range of 65oC to 50oC for several hours.
He noted that the World Health Organization (WHO) advises that hot drinks, consumed at temperatures above 65oC, can lead to cancer of the esophagus (see the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation’s coverage at http://www.cbc.ca/news/health/coffee-cancer-1.3635995).
Professor Narine said, “For example, most coffee dispensed by coffee shops are sold at 75oC. The Prolong Travel Mug reduces the temperature of 75oC coffee to 65oC in half a minute, and maintains the coffee in the perfect range for three hours!”
“This is welcomed news also for most tea drinkers, as tea is brewed between the temperatures of 74oC and 96oC, depending on the type of tea, and most coffee and tea drinkers are familiar with waiting for upwards of 30 minutes for their beverage to cool, then having to nuke it shortly after as it becomes too cold.”
According to co-inventor Michael Floros, the mug solves the Goldilocks Conundrum: too hot to handle, too cold to enjoy? The Prolong Mug makes your hot beverage just right.
According to Professor Narine, the story of the striking invention began almost eight years ago, during a meeting with Trent University Alumni David Patterson. His company, Northwater Capital, was at the time was engaged in commercialisation of green technologies.
Narine, recently recruited to Trent University from the University of Alberta, explained to David Patterson that the focus of the new Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research was on the design of new green sustainable materials from vegetable oils to supplant those currently made from petroleum.
Patterson, who was very interested in energy storage technologies, challenged Narine to figure out how his materials can function as green, sustainable energy storage devices with defined life cycles. That is: how can the materials function like batteries?
Narine and members of his team, specifically graduate students Michael Floros and Michael Tessier, began to look into how materials can store and release energy on demand.
They focused on how the energy absorbed when a material changes phase (from solid to liquid or liquid to gas) can be stored and then released on demand if the phase of the material is reversed.
Floros had already completed a BSc. at Trent in Biochemistry and Tessier a BSc. at Trent in Physics. The team quickly realized that the challenges to make materials which functioned in this fashion, could only be overcome by using a multidisciplinary approach.
Tessier, who completed a MSc. in the Narine lab, focused on modelling the requirements of the materials – what temperatures of melt, for example, are required and how much energy can be stored in a given amount of a particular material.
Floros, who also completed a Ph.D. in the Narine lab, focused on how the materials could be synthesised from sustainable soybean oil, using Green Chemistry.
The team’s efforts led to the filing of three patents, focused on how these green and sustainable Phase Change Materials can be produced from soybean oil and how they can be used in food and beverage containers and in compressed air energy storage.
Work in the laboratory focused on a myriad of ways in which to utilise this novel form of energy storage; harnessing low grade heat lost from homes and buildings, passively maintaining the temperature of the batteries powering electric vehicles, increasing the efficiency of compressed air energy storage applications, improving and reducing the cost of solar energy storage, etc.
Although the two Michaels are now graduated, MSc. student Navindra Soodoo from Guyana and Ph.D. student Kosheela Poo Palam from Malaysia, are continuing the work in the Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research.
Even while pursuing technology solutions which could have a large impact on sustainable energy use, reduction of energy use and improvement in the efficiency of energy storage, the Michaels and Narine felt that this approach to energy storage could be utilised in more immediate and popular ways – in food and beverage temperature modulation.
As with most innovations, serendipity played a role. Narine happened to be in hotel room in Toronto when the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation ran a prime time news story on the WHO’s warning on the carcinogenicity of hot beverages above 65oC. And the Prolong idea was born! The team still proudly showcases the first prototype that the Michaels produced in the laboratory – a very crude, rudimentary prototype which resembles a 15 lb free-weight.
The team utilized one of the Phase Change Materials (PCM) invented from soybean oil in a triple-walled mug design. The outer liner of the mug is identical to most travel mugs and contains a vacuum. The middle liner, however, was filled with the PCM. Narine explained that the PCM is not only synthesised using Green Chemistry, but is also biodegradable.
The PCM rapidly absorbs the excess heat from hot liquids poured into the mug, cooling the liquid to a perfect 65°C. As this happens, the PCM in the middle liner converts from a solid to liquid state, thermodynamically absorbing and trapping heat from the mug’s contents and lowering its internal temperature.
Later, as the beverage begins to cool, the process reverses, the PCM solidifies, and the stored heat is released back into the beverage, keeping it in the optimum temperature range.
By now, Patterson had become a funder of the research programme and the research team naturally showcased the prototype to him. Narine tells the story of how David, a tea drinker, was encouraged to drink hot piping tea out of the prototype, as he and the Michaels provided the latest update on the science.
According to Narine, “We dragged out the presentation, so that David, who was visibly impressed with being able to immediately comfortably drink his tea without waiting the normal time for it to cool, could also realise that the tea maintained perfect drinking temperature range for hours.”
Floros recalls, “David’s eyes just kept getting wider and wider and after a while we realized he wasn’t paying attention to our presentation anymore, but that the prototype had captured all of his attention.”
Patterson approached the group with an offer to invest in commercialising the technology, and the new company, Phase Materials Inc. was born.
While the company is focused on bringing several other technologies revolving around Phase Change Materials to the marketplace, Narine feels that the learning that his team was exposed to over the life-cycle of this project, from idea to prototype to investment attraction, dominant design and production, and commercial launch, has been invaluable to the Trent experience.
According to Professor Narine, “we did not set out, by any means, to invent a space age travel mug, and in fact are quite surprised by the amazing response this invention is receiving from such large numbers of people – it is, I guess, a very practical reminder that market responses and dominant designs for new products born out of technological advancements sometimes have nothing to do with the initial intent.”
THE TRENT CENTRE
The Trent Centre for Biomaterials Research has filed more than 30 patents within the past eight years, all focused on green sustainable materials. With more than 100 publications published in less than eight years, the Centre is proud that all of its intellectual property and publications have Trent undergraduates and graduate students as co-inventors and co-authors. See www.trentu.ca/tcbr and www.prolongmug.com for more information.
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