New Laser-Powered Device Lets You Recycle Paper by Vaporizing Ink

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Let’s face it, most of us waste a lot of printer paper during the course of a day. New technology from researchers at the University of Cambridge might help cut down on all of that waste by letting people reuse paper by wiping documents clean with lasers.

Say you have a stack of meeting agendas that you’ll never look at again. In the future, you might be able to blast them with a laser set to a specific wavelength — in this case 532 nanometres — and vaporize the toner, leaving the paper underneath undamaged.

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According to New Scientist, you couldn’t do this indefinitely, printing and then erasing the type on a piece of paper again and again until the end of time. Researcher David Leal-Ayala says a piece of paper can be reused about three times before you start noticeably damaging it.

Still, three times is better than no times. The only company to experiment with something similar is Toshiba, who created a printer that uses special blue ink that disappears when heated in a certain way.

That technology uses the same kind of ink erasable pens do…not exactly the most readable color. It also requires that you have a specially outfitted printer and only use Toshiba’s toner.

The advantages to the laser-powered device developed at Cambridge are obvious. You would need no special inks or printers and could print things in any color you wanted to.

The only problem? New Scientist says “the Cambridge team have not secured patents on the idea nor have they yet approached copier makers about integrating the process as an option in their printer/copiers.”

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