Atomic Physics is Changing the Packaging Industry
What do atomic physics and meat packaging have to do with each other? At Gasporox the connection is clear. Using the knowledge and research of a group of atomic physicists, this Lund-based company is able to measure gas within packages of various materials using laser technologies. That means they can ensure that the gas atmosphere surrounding sensitive goods, such as meat, fish, or medicine, is perfect for providing the longest possible shelf life. This technology both reduces food waste and optimizes packaging.
In the bottom floor of Gasporox’s premises in southwest Lund, a package of pork chops is being run under a sensor. The packaging says that the pork has been packed in a protective atmosphere, which allows the refrigerated meat to be kept for a few weeks instead of only a few days. However, this extended shelf life requires that nothing unforeseen has happened to this protective gas mixture within the package. In the past, industry had to rely on destructive sampling to ensure gas mixture quality. Now, thanks to Gasporox’s technology, light from a laser can be used to measure gases within packaging for each individual package at production, thus ensuring long lasting freshness by confirming gas mixture quality for all goods without destroying a single sample package.
With this technology, companies can measure the gas mixture within food packaging, such as fish, water, fresh pasta, or ready-made food, as well as within glass vials of medicine. Gasporox is already well established in the pharmaceutical packaging control industry and is expanding in the area of food packaging inspection.
“Large quantities of packaging are being produced and food production accounts for a large portion of our carbon footprint,” points out Gasporox’s CEO Märta Lewander Xu (to the left). “In terms of sustainable production it is important that packaging has a long shelf life and proper quality. Reducing the amount of food thrown away can result in huge gains.”
Gasporox was established in 2005 by a research group of atomic physicists at Lund University. Commercialization began in 2011 with Lewander Xu beginning as technical manager and later being appointed CEO in 2015. Prior to that she worked in nuclear physics within research institutes and wrote her PhD dissertation on laser absorption spectroscopy of gas in scattering media.
“Much of what is in the company comes from the Department for Atomic Physics at LTH, where I finished my PhD with Professor Sune Svanberg. In the department, I found myself on the border between physics and applications, both within the medical and packaging industries.”
Lewander Xu researched how to make harmless gas measurements in the sinuses and lungs using laser technologies. This is what subsidiary GPX Medical now works with. Their business concept is to find ways using the technology to monitor the lungs of premature infants and to more reliably diagnosis sinusitis.
Measuring gases within packaging was another topic she researched. Gasporox has taken research findings in this field and applied them to products within both pharmaceutical and food packaging.
“My driving force is that research should not end in a dissertation,” says Lewander Xu. “It is when it becomes a product that real benefits come about and that is what I try to manage. We at the department are experts at measuring gas in a totally new medium and out of this various projects and products have emerged.”
The technology that Gasporox uses is already standard in the processing industry for measuring air pollution.
“Using laser technology for quality control within packaging, on the other hand, is brand new,” according to Lewander Xu. “We know the technology, but it is a matter of understanding the market and needs. It takes a bit of time and we have to work broadly to get into different sectors.”
Goods packaged in a protective atmosphere are supplied with a predetermined gas mixture, which is different for different products. The gas mixtures work with oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon dioxide. The oxygen content is often reduced as oxygen speeds up the process of rotting and carbon dioxide is added because it is antibacterial.
Gasporox has a total of ten employees. There is a production and development team that produces and adjusts sensors for customers who produce machinery lines. In addition, they have communications, finance and sales departments.
“A part of our success is that we involve people with complementary qualities in all of our cases. We are a small and efficient team.”
The company is listed on the Nasdaq First North stock exchange and, since launching, sales have only gone up. In the first six months of 2019, Gasporox achieved sales equal to 80% of the full previous year’s sales and the third quarter of 2019 was the company’s strongest yet, with positive operating profit.
Gasporox operates internationally with Europe as their principal market, but also has customers in Asia. The company’s strategic business model entails selling gas sensors to customers for integration within production lines.
Gasporox’s vision is to replace the destructive techniques used for sampling within industry with laser techniques that are both non-intrusive and non-invasive.
Gasporox has increased turnover every year since 2012. During the third quarter of 2019, the company achieved their financial target of having a positive operating profit for the quarter.
The subsidiary GPX Medical spun off in 2016 and is focused on developing Gasporox’s laser technologies for medical applications, such as lung monitoring for premature babies and sinus diagnostics. GPX Medical employs five people within product develop and their CEO is Hanna Sjöström.
Text: Caroline Wendt
Translation: Finlay McGregor
Photo: Caroline Wendt