From: Sabina Cao, Guest Contributor
Published April 9, 2012 10:47 AM

Laser "Un-printer" Wipes Paper Clean

Guest post courtesy of Let's talk about recycling. Despite our efforts to cut back on paper usage and production, the effects of forestry and emissions from recycling plants still heavily harm the environment. However, the paper production cycle could be changing now, thanks to lasers. Researchers at the University of Cambridge announced last week that they have discovered a way to remove toner ink from paper without damage using lasers.


According to the research, this allows the undamaged paper to be reused, without being discarded, shredded or sent to a recycling plant.

Ten different laser setups with varying laser strengths and pulse durations were tested, including the ultraviolet, visible and infrared spectrum. Using standard Canon copy paper with HP Laserjet black toner in the experiments, researchers exposed paper to the laser and then analyzed under a scanning electron microscope.

The implications of this research are far-reaching and have already been praised across the Internet.

For the workplace, stacks of old reports can become clean sheets of paper in no time. Paper costs could be cut dramatically; paper shortages a thing of the past.

For the environment, forestry, pulping, paper making and disposal by incineration or landfill is removed from the paper production cycle. Emissions from the pulp and paper recycling industry could be halved.

And they may become a reality in offices quicker than expected.

"What we need to do now is find someone to build a prototype," said Dr. Julian Allwood, Leader of the Low Carbon Materials Processing Group at Cambridge and project supervisor of the experiments. "Thanks to low-energy laser scanners and laser-jet printers, the feasibility for reusing paper in the office is there."

David Leal-Ayala, a PhD student in Allwood’s group, says in a New Scientist report that the more you expose the paper to the erasing process, the more likely it is to damage the paper – possibly turning it yellow.

Meanwhile, Toshiba in Japan has already had a great response to their e-blue erasable toner system. Announced in 2003, the toner fades if it is heated above 130C (266F) and is used with special paper. Companies using the ink have reported 40 to 60 percent savings in their paper usage already. Limitations in hardware and output, however, have hindered its spread to Europe and the United States.

Toshiba is now working on a full color version of the erasable ink as it was only previously offered in blue. They have also announced a new printer that uses erasable toner, based on the same technology as the FriXion erasable pens. It functions the same as any other printer, just with special paper and toner, and erasing is just as easy as feeding the paper into "the eraser" device for a clean sheet.

However, Toshiba’s method only works if you buy the magic ink, Allwood told New Scientist.

"Our ambition was to develop a method that would remove conventional toner from conventional paper in order to allow re-use of the paper," said Allwood. "Toshiba’s is a different approach to the same problem."

Sabina Cao is the Content Creator and Blog Manager of's blog: Take Back Your Printer!

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