Bengaluru-based biotechnology researcher Richard Gomes, who has created an “edible water orb" from natural materials, has a modest disclaimer: the technique used by his team is not unique or even particularly new; it’s used in many biotech labs to hold delicate cells together. “The orb provides a stable and sterile environment for cells to grow," says Gomes, resident biologist at Workbench Projects, a co-working makerspace in Bengaluru. Gomes and his team wanted to take the idea forward and create an alternative to plastic water bottles, potentially replacing them with edible and biodegradable globules that can hold around 50ml of water. They are exploring options to make these orbs bigger, so that they can hold around 100ml, and manufacture them commercially and at scale.

“We are working with engineers here (at Workbench) to develop a mechanized solution that will not only dispense the orbs on demand but also process them from raw materials (essentially calcium salts and alginate hydrogel, a seaweed extract)," says Gomes.

Workbench has tools for techniques like 3D modelling and printing as well as rapid hardware prototyping, so it’s equipped to find this solution. The orbs are made from an open-source recipe using a process called reverse spherification. Interestingly, the same process is used by chefs to create globules of flavourful liquid in some of the most chi-chi “molecular gastronomy" restaurants in the world. Last year, a British start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab launched a gelatinous sphere containing 250ml of water called the Ooho and and has started selling these at events like marathons. “We are not infringing on any intellectual property rights," clarifies Gomes. “The recipe is well-known and in the public domain. In fact, we welcome more people to come forward and use this technique as a base to create different and better alternatives to use-and-throw plastic bottles," he says.