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Laser 'unprinter' vapourizes photocopied ink from paper


March 16, 2012 - London

Researchers have developed a new laser powered device to "unphotocopy" toner ink from paper.

The process developed by engineers at the University of Cambridge involves using short laser pulses to erase words and images by heating the printed material to the point that they vaporise, the BBC reported.

The researchers have insisted that it works with commonly used papers and toner inks and is more eco-friendly than recycling.

However, they added that more research is required to bring a product to market.

"When you fire the laser, it hits the thin toner layer and heats it up until the point that you vaporise it," the team's lead author, David Leal-Ayala said.

"Toner is mostly composed of carbon and a plastic polymer. It's the polymer in the toner that is vaporised."

In their study, reported by New Scientist, the engineers acknowledge that they are not the first ones to have thought about this idea.

But they asserted that others who have attempted to solve the problem have found that they damaged and/or discoloured the paper in the process, or needed specially formulated toner.

Leal-Ayala and his colleagues tested a range of ultraviolet, infra-red and visible lasers at various speeds.

They finally discovered that the best setting was green laser pulses, lasting just four billionths of a second in duration, which removed all but a hint of the print.

They revealed that curling, bending and accelerated-ageing tests carried out on the resulting "unprinted" paper suggested it had not sustained major damage and was "comparable to blank unlasered paper".

A gas extraction system was employed to capture nanoparticles and "mostly harmless" gases produced by the process.

After demonstrating the technique in a lab setting, the engineers now plan to develop a prototype device suitable for an office.

The study has been published in the Proceedings of The Royal Society A journal.

ANI

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