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The qualities of paper have subtly changed in recent years, and perhaps become even more environmentally friendly, thanks to the use of nanotechnology.
November 18th, 2007
There's More to Paper Than Meets the Eye
Back in the mid-1990s, just as the Internet was starting to really boom, everyone talked about how the world was now on the verge of a paperless society. And if you think about it, we probably print more now than ever before. But have you ever taken a really close look at paper?
I'm not talking about reading the paper in the morning with coffee. Although, next time you do, you might view it a little more differently knowing that the ink used is actually comprised of nanoparticles; and has been since ancient times in China.
But back to paper itself. Go to an art supply store sometime and take a really close look at the papers offered. Some of almost qualifies as art. I actually use a really unique handmade paper as curtains in one room in my house, because the different fibers that make up the paper look like the threads of a fabric, and the texture is almost cloth-like.
Paper is generally made from a mixture of wood fibers (called pulp) and water, various chemicals and other materials. Some papers are made of rice - and are incredibly thin and transparent - while other papers are thick and rough, and may contain things such as flower petals. The paper you're probably most familiar with is copy paper, which has a very smooth surface, and is fairly lightweight.
In the past, the thicker the paper, the stiffer it was; cardboard is a good example. But have you noticed that even copy paper, which is very thin - about the same thickness as a human hair - is also fairly stiff? Both of these qualities not only make the paper easier to feed through printers, but results in crisper images; that is, the edges of the letters or graphics don't get fuzzy.
This improvement in paper comes courtesy of nanotechnology. In fact, the use of silica nanoparticles not only makes paper smoother and stronger, it also reduces the amount of raw materials needed. The use of less pulp not only means you need fewer trees, but less water as well. So in this respect, you could almost consider nanoparticles to be environmentally friendly.
Another way nanotechnology is being used is to coat the paper itself. This is especially useful for the coated glossy paper typically used when printing in color - like for magazines. In fact, a nanostructured coating is allowing companies to create paper that has the high gloss and smoothness of coated paper, with the whiteness and stiffness of uncoated copy paper.
Over the past five years, the demand for glossy paper has increased significantly as more people print photos at home; last year Kodak introduced a new special paper for just this purpose. Comprised of nine layers of ceramic nanoparticles and other coatings, it's more resistant to heat and light. So, instead of fading away over time, photos printed on this paper could feasibly remain like new for more than 100 years.
This article is a transcript of the Bourne Report Podcast #70.
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