Engineers at the University of Cambridge have been working hard to develop a process to “unphotocopy” toner ink from paper. This new process involves using short laser pulses to erase words and images by vaporising them. The printer material is heated up to a certain point and they then vaporise.
Researchers believe this process will be more eco-friendly than recycling as it is believed to work with commonly used papers and toner inks. However, more research will be required before the product is released on the market.
“When you fire the laser, it hits the thin toner hp cb540a layer and heats it up until the point that you vaporise it,” David Leal-Ayala, the team’s lead author, explains. “Toner is mostly composed of carbon and a plastic polymer. It’s the polymer in the toner that is vaporised.”
In their study, which has been published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society A journal and reported by New Scientist, they have acknowledged that they are not the very first engineers to have though of this marvellous idea. The difference between them and the previous attempts is that before they were discolouring or even damaging the paper in the process. Some even required specially formulated toner.
Already on the market is Toshiba’s laser printer which can erase ink. However, the printer can only erase that which is its own ‘e-blue’ ink.
Mr Leal-Ayala and his colleagues have done a lot of research including testing a range of ultraviolet, infra-red and visible lasers at different speeds. Eventually however they settled on green laser pulses as the best setting, which removed all but a slight hint of the original print with it lasting just four billionths of a second in time.
They also tested out the damage this could be done to the paper, which other researchers had a problem with. They performed tests for curling, bending and accelerated-ageing on the paper and found that the “unprinted” paper had not been subjected to significant damage, comparable to standard paper. A gas extraction system was also used to capture nanoparticles and harmless gasses which the process produced.
The engineers not plan to develop a prototype device suitable for use in an office after demonstrating the technique in a lab setting. However, this is set to cost £19,000 at present to build. Businesses will still find recycling paper to be a more cost-effective way to recycling. However, after mass production of the units the price should fall.
“When you recycle paper you use a lot of resources,” Mr Leal-Ayala explains “you use electricity, water and chemicals, and to be honest when you print something the only reason that you don’t re-use the paper is because there is print on it. The paper is still in good condition and there is no point in going through all the heavy industrial process if the paper is still perfectly fine.”
Is this the latest invention set to change our times? We will have to wait a little bit longer to find out.