Taiwan based Industrial Technology Research Institute, or ITRI, has come up with something that can be considered the nearest to a true blue replacement for paper, a highly flexible electronic paper that’s both re-writable and re-usable. Further, the technology which has gone into the making of the e-paper has ensured it does not require any electricity for retention of the screen image. It has would definitely appeal to those championing the green cause and tech heads alike.
The way the e-paper, which uses a flexible cholesteric liquid crystal panel, works is this: The basic principle is that this material holds a very similar structure to the biological cholesterol molecules from which the e-paper has got its name 12Re-Paper. A key aspect of the display is that ambient light sources are enough for it to exhibit 16 shades of gray, thus making it possible to operate without backlighting, something that is not possible with the conventional LCD screens as we know it. The e-paper boasts of a resolution of 300 dpi for the text and images it carries, which in turn can be stored or transferred using heat in much the same manner as the old school thermal fax machines operated.
The liquid crystal layer of the e-paper surface turns light or dark when subjected to a temperature of 86 degrees Celsius or 186 degrees Fahrenheit. The heat source is a thermal printer that is fitted with a thermal head, using 37 watts for its functions. The printer takes the e-paper with its previous content, which it wipes off first to place the next set of text or image upon it. The e-paper is very thin and hence bendable, while a single sheet can be re-used as many as 260 times, a figure that is sure to go up significantly after further research and development. Another significant plus point of the 12Re-Paper is that it boasts of a high percentage of recyclable content. The plastic PET substrate, high molecular liquid crystal material, nano pigment absorption layer material, and silver electrode are all recyclable and can be put to use again once the e-paper has reached the maximum number of re-writes allowed on it.
ITRI also mentions that normal solvent marker pens can also be used to write on its surface. Different colors can be achieved on the e-paper by the use of “different pitch spherical composite ion-exchangers.” This gives the paper high potential for use in magazines, newspapers, and color e-books as well.
Dr. Janglin Chen, general director of ITRI’s Display Technology Center, said, “It’s a fact that a significant portion of daily office printed papers will be discarded in days or weeks after use.” “i2R e-Paper’s re-cycle and re-use capabilities, positive effects on the environment and low cost of production are paving the way for mass acceptance of green e-paper technologies.”
The ITRI, a non-profit organization, is currently seeking licensing arrangements with a number of US based as well as domestic manufacturers. Meanwhile, the Taiwan based ChangChun Plastics is currently operating as the sole authorized manufacturer of the 12Re-paper, while mass production is expected to commence next year. ITRI is already foreseeing huge potential for the 12Re-paper to be used in the form of advertising banners, corporate visitor ID badges, transit passes, museum and parking lot tickets, or other areas where the paper used has a typically small life span.
The 12Re-paper is no doubt a great innovation and has already fetched ITRI a number of international awards and recognition. These include the first prize in the Materials and Basic Science and Technology category of the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards, the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards (which it has won for the third time in a row), along with the R&D 100 Awards this time for the same innovation.