An interesting question

Does flat pack pasta actually save on transport costs and emissions?

Hoping to bring the food staple into a sustainable 21st century, US-based academics developed morphing flat-pack pasta.

They stamped grooves into flat pasta sheets which, when boiled, swelled into penne, rigatoni and farfalle.

Traditional pasta already morphs when cooked, expanding and softening when boiled. The team harnessed these natural properties to create its flat-packed pasta – made of only semolina flour and water.

Assistant Prof Lining Yao, director of the Morphing Matter Lab, said: “We were inspired by flat-packed furniture and how it saved space, made storage easier and reduced the carbon footprint associated with transportation.”

Fun project to do, certainly, but does it actually save on transport costs?

Hmm. The defining line is the weight of water. Transport works on volume weight. Yes, you can get 36 tonnes into a 40 foot container. 36 tonnes of feathers would never fit. 36 tonnes of gold would be a layer on the floor. You can definitely get 36 tonnes of water in.

The rough and ready guide then becoming. If the item is more dense than water then it works on weight – 36 tonnes. If it’s less dense than water then it’s volume – the m³ of the container. So, is past more or less dense than water?

More, obviously. But what about shapes, with air, in a package? I don’t actually know. A packet of spaghetti almost certainly denser than water. A bag of farfalle? Penne? Umm?

I hope the researchers found out the answer before they started…..

20 thoughts on “An interesting question”

  1. Although interestingly looking at the 20 foot container, the payload capacity is much closer to the water volume. Interesting – I wonder why. Anyway still flat pasta is pointless.

  2. You never been shopping Tim? It doesn’t require a research grant. The shaped pasta’s round about half the density of spag. The packaging contains the air between the shapes. Density of spag’s lookupable. Seems to be around half of water. Again no doubt because of the air between the strands. Anyone want to patent square section spaghetti?

  3. The limitation is truck chassis, bridge weights and crane lifting capacity……thus the 20 ft can be “more filled” than the 40 ft.

  4. I’ve just tried floating bags spaghetti and penne. Whist the pack of spaghetti was close to the density of water a bag of penne pasta is really buoyant. At a guess I would put it at no more than a quarter of the density of water. Consequently a 40 foot container full of bags of penne would weigh less than 17 tons which is much less than the 27 tons the container could handle.

    Flat pack pasta has a “shipping” justification.

  5. Glorious! Actual, real, experimental science!

    So, that’s your banning from any arts faculty in any Western world university dealt with then.

  6. Density doesn’t matter.

    Does the cost of changing it exceed the cost saved (shipping etc) from doing so? That’s it. Doesn’t matter how dense it is.

  7. 67.7 tonnes of water in a 40′ box?
    Wouldn’t the water leak out?

    I suppose you could put it in a reefer……

  8. The Pedant-General

    There are some things that can’t be flat packed – crisps for example.

    A savvy shipper looks at his container of dense things that takes up the majority of the weight allowance, then whacks in n pallets of helium balloons to cube out the space.

  9. TPG- “There are some things that can’t be flat packed – crisps for example.” – well pringles are kind of crisps.

  10. A typical volumetric charge in airfreight is the greater of the weight in kg, and the volume in cubic centimetres divided by 6000. Which allows quite a lot of space between noodles.

  11. @The Pedant-General: Pringles are flat packed ‘crisps’

    Flat packing would presumably mean less packaging is needed, and more of the item can fit in the same cardboard shipping box. It would take less room in the storeroom, require (marginally) less labour to carry the boxes in and take less space on the shelf (or more can be fitted in the same space).

    If those are generally significant savings is a good question, but I imagine in some scenarios (cruise ships, planes, nuclear submarines etc) volume taken is by far the more significant factor than weight.

    And to be fair the science may well be useful in either developing new products, or other areas (self folding machines for other purposes perhaps).

  12. @ bis
    But the curly and shaped pasta (fusilli, farfalle etc) my wife particularly likes take up *more* than twice the volume per kg of spaghetti or linguine.

  13. The recent trend is straw-shaped pasta: the biodegradable alternative to plastic straws.

    The science is moot. This is green-washing, marketing spin; whether it works is irrelevant.

  14. Hallowed Be said:
    “TPG- “There are some things that can’t be flat packed – crisps for example.” – well pringles are kind of crisps.”

    They would be more space efficient if they were square.

  15. We hope you in the west are looking forward to your climate neutral future. Flat packed pasta is merely the latest green innovation to go with your synthetic meatball in mealworm sauce. Here in China we will continue eating pork and chicken, and enjoy the interest on all the money your governments borrowed from us. Klaus will be revealing further details shortly.

  16. “In order to save the planet we must make pasta flat”
    “Er, but China opened a hundred coal-fired power stations last mo…”

  17. RichardT.”They would be more space efficient if they were square.” True, and they also go far too soggy when boiled in water.

  18. Flat-pack pasta… will assembly instructions be in Finnish?

    I have some experience with container shipping things with clever ‘new’ packaging which is going to save this and that. It turns out if you reduce the volume you can get more weight into the container up to its limit. And that folks means the stuff at the bottom has more weight sitting on it, and with a rough sea-crossing or bumpy roads it does not travel well. Now we need new, strengthened outers to protect the inners and their contents… and up goes pack weight and volume. Not quite back to square one, but the actual saving is less than the effort and cost of damaged goods.

  19. “40 foot container. 36 tonnes of feathers would never fit” – that would be about 60 cubic metres, so you would need to get the feathers up to about half the density of water, hmm, there are vacuum packager thingies for clothes or whatever, if used on feathers then perhaps you could indeed get 36 tonnes into 60 cubic metres – dunno, just saying that vacuum packing can hugely reduce volume.

    Fuel savings on ‘flat’ pasta are doubtless real, and surely quite small.

    A lorry with X kg on board, however packed, still has to pull the same sized container through the air, so no fuel savings at all unless an extra lorry is required because the less dense pasta has filled up the container. This may well happen if a supermarket has an efficient distribution network.

    I wonder how many extra lorries Tesco has to run because of all the air in pasta shells? Perhaps a dozen per year? dunno.

    I once calculated that it would take about one whole lifetime to eat an entire lorryload of cheese. And six weeks to drive to the Moon on a motorway.

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