Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Laser un-printer – in an office near you soon?

image Researchers at Cambridge University have found a way to remove toner from scrap paper so that the paper can be used again.

Printers005Dr Julian Allwood, Leader of the Low Carbon Materials Processing Group at the University, and David Leal-Ayala, PhD student, tested toner-print removal using a variety of lasers. The results showed that toner-print can be removed effectively without causing significant paper damage, so that the paper to be reused, rather than thrown away or recycled.

The Researchers worked with The Bavarian Laser Centre to test various laser strengths and pulse durations in the study. The lasers also spanned the ultraviolet, visible and infrared spectrum. The paper used in the experiments was standard Canon copy paper with HP Laserjet black toner. Once the paper was exposed to the laser, the samples were analysed under a scanning electron microscope and subjected to colour, mechanical and chemical analyses to check for any damage.

The bottom line is that not only could the ‘un-printer’ save forests from being used for new paper, but that the emissions produced by the pulp and paper recycling industry could be at least halved as a result of paper reuse. “This could represent a significant contribution towards the cause of reducing climate change emissions from paper manufacturing” Allwood said.

With advances in low-energy laser scanning technology, the research raises the possibility of toner-removing devices becoming common in offices in the future. Not quite yet, though, as the researchers are still looking for someone to build a prototype.

 

Sounds fascinating. In the office of the future there could well be an office un-printer sitting next to the printer. There are a couple of considerations to bear in mind, though. It assumes that there will still be emissions savings after manufacturing and powering the device. Perhaps it would be possible to have a dual function printer/un-printer.

The other aspect to take into consideration is human behaviour. The danger is that the availability of a toner remover will make people more likely to print in the first place. There’s a tendency to be less concerned about creating emissions if you think you can undo the damage later (one of the problems with offsetting). We’ve seen similar issues in the use of videoconferencing. While videoconferencing certainly saves emissions from business travel, there have been persistent stories that when implemented people tend to use the videoconferencing facilities more often than necessary, so reducing some of the environmental benefits.

In terms of office printing, the best option is to reduce the requirement as much as possible – using software to minimise a print job in the first place saves paper, toner and power. Perhaps after that has become an everyday habit an un-printer may bring additional benefit.

© The Green IT Review

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