Researchers develop 'unprinter' to erase ink from paper

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Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed what they call a laser ‘unprinter’ – a device that is able to remove toner ink from paper. A production model would allow businesses to reuse copier paper rather than sending it off for recycling, a process that is good for the environment but admittedly uses a lot of resources in the process.

The procedure works by firing green laser pulses in four billionths of a second increments at the ink. The laser effectively vaporizes the plastic polymer found in toner, leaving only a small trace of the ink behind. A ventilation system was used to remove nanoparticles and mostly harmless gases produced during the procedure.

Bending, curling and accelerated-aging tests on the ‘unprinted’ paper show no long-term signs of damage and was comparable to a regular piece of paper.

This isn’t the first time that someone has developed a device to remove ink from paper, but this latest ‘unprinter’ does so without some of the restrictions that other devices bring to the table. Toshiba currently offers a laser printer that offers a similar function but users must utilize a special ‘e-blue’ ink when printing, effectively limiting its useful scope. Other methods tend to damange the paper or leave it discolored.

The researchers are now planning to build a prototype device which they suspect can be done for around $25,000. This price would likely fall by a large margin should the 'unprinter' find its way into production at a later stage.

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