May 7, 2008 The promised age of the paperless office has largely failed to eventuate, thanks in part to improvements in printers and photocopiers that have made it easier than ever to produce hard copies of documents, but primarily because many of us remain addicted to the tangibility, portability and sheer convenience of paper. Now Xerox Corporation scientists have invented a way to make prints that last only a day before fading , meaning paper can be used again and again. The technology, which is still in a preliminary state, blurs the line between paper documents and digital displays and could ultimately lead to a significant reduction in paper use.
The experimental printing technology, a collaboration between the Xerox Research Centre of Canada and PARC (Palo Alto Research Center Inc.), could someday replace printed pages that are used for just a brief time before being discarded. Xerox estimates that as many as two out of every five pages printed in the office are for what it calls "daily" use, like e-mails, Web pages and reference materials that have been printed for a single viewing.
Xerox has filed for patents on the technology, which it calls "erasable paper." It is currently part of a laboratory project that focuses on the concept of future dynamic documents. To develop erasable paper, researchers needed to identify ways to create temporary images. The "a-ha" moment came from developing compounds that change color when they absorb a certain wavelength of light but then will gradually disappear. In its present version, the paper self-erases in about 16-24 hours and can be used multiple times.
While scientists at XRCC work on the chemistry of the technology, their counterparts at PARC - the birthplace of the laser printer - are investigating ways to build a device that could write the image onto the special paper. PARC researchers developed a prototype "printer" that creates the image on the paper using a light bar that provides a specific wavelength of light as a writing source. The written image fades naturally over time or can be immediately erased by exposing it to heat.
Temporary documents are part of Xerox's ongoing investments in sustainable innovation - or "green products" - that deliver measurable benefits to the environment. So while the paperless office looks set to remain a pipe-dream for the foreseeable future, erasable paper has the potential to significantly cut office paper use and reduce waste.
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