The C&EN article on deinking technologies might appear to be just a mundane example of applied chemical engineering (C&EN, Aug. 1, page 42). For R&D chemists in industry, however, the article neatly captures the multiple challenges posed during any successful product development activity.
To meet product specifications, chemical innovation is necessary but not sufficient— success in the marketplace also requires attention to factors such as energy consumption, time to market, product safety, cost, and reuse. Additionally, long-term product planning can be disrupted by breakthrough technologies. For example, digitally enabled improvements in the speed, cost, and quality of ink-jet and xerographic nonimpact printing (NIP) technologies have created new printing applications including the publishing of short-run/on-demand books and manuals and the creation of two-sided, silver halide-free photobooks, all at the expense of traditional printing technologies.
In turn, these emerging markets have dictated new NIP requirements—for example, color fidelity and stability, extended tonal range, thin image layers, and freedom from image-to-image transfer under heat and pressure (automobile owners’ manuals must remain readable even after long-term storage in a glove compartment).
As detailed in the C&EN article, the inks now used in nonimpact digital printing are stimulating new processes for paper recycling, and likewise paper recycling demands will probably affect the future designs of NIP inks. Since the performance of NIP inks is actually enabled by complex chemical mixtures, further changes in ink design to facilitate paper recycling will require additional long-term, innovative R&D. In the near term, however, the NIP paper deinking problem is largely being viewed as a marketing tool—compatibility with existing deinking technologies is currently used as a product differentiator. (Similarly, concepts involving erasable NIP ink appear useful mainly for corporate press releases.)
Eventually, of course, continued advances in digital imaging may make obsolete the entire concept of printing on paper. At this year’s Society for Imaging Science & Technology NIP27 conference to be held in Minneapolis on Oct. 2–6, one keynote address is titled, “Is Paper a Nuisance?” Meanwhile, today’s electronic reader is just the first step toward electronic paper, a development that will challenge R&D chemists well into the future, with respect both to the underlying technologies and to concepts for post-use recycling.
By Robert J. Nash