This Low-Cost Paper Can Be Erased And Reprinted Dozens Of Times

Brilliance | Dec. 16, 2017

These days, we spend a lot of effort avoiding paper waste—you toss scraps in the recycling bin, and try to remember to click "double-sided" when you print documents. But what if there was paper you could reuse dozens of times? Scientists have developed a material that could do just that.

The Perplexing Problem Of Paper

These days, we send email instead of snail mail, read e-books instead of paperback books, and make announcements via Facebook instead of fliers. But if you think ink and paper is obsolete, you are very mistaken. According to Paper Life Cycle, paper production is still growing by 2.8 percent each year, and the EPA estimates that in 2013, the amount of paper that was recycled averaged 275 pounds per person in the U.S. Clearly, paper is still important.

But in a perfect world, we'd never need to dump paper into a recycling bin in the first place. That's the hope for a new development by researchers Ting Wang, Dairong Chen, and their colleagues: they created a low-cost, nontoxic material that can be printed and erased up to 40 times before any decline in quality.

How It Works

The material itself is a combination of tungsten oxide and polyvinyl pyrrolidone. By exposing the material to UV light for at least 30 seconds, you can turn it from white to deep blue. Bringing a stencil into the equation lets you "print" words and images. Without any interference, the printing will stay around for a day or two before disappearing on its own. If you want it to last longer, you can add a small amount of a chemical called polyacrylonitrile, which will boost its staying power to 10 days. If you want it to disappear sooner, just add heat for 30 minutes. Who knows—the printers of the future may rely on UV light. 

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