Scientists have created rewritable paper made from redox dyes and a plastic or glass film
Scientists have created rewritable paper made from redox dyes and a plastic or glass film Yin Lab, UC Riverside

Chemists at the University of California Riverside have developed a new type of paper that is rewritable and can be erased and written on more than 20 times without any significant loss in resolution of contrast, which could solve paper wastage and environmental problems like deforestation.

Their research, entitled Photocatalytic colour switching of redox dyes for ink-free light-printable rewritable paper, is published in the journal Nature Communications.

The rewritable paper comes in the form of a glass or plastic film, together with commercial chemicals called redox dyes as "ink".

The redox dyes in the film are made up of three primary colours – methylene blue, neutral red and acid green, together with titania nanocrystals (used as catalysts) and a thickening agent called hydrogen cellulose (HEC).

If you wanted to print some text onto the rewritable paper, you would put printed letters onto another plastic film, and then use ultraviolet light to turn all parts of the dye invisible, except for the parts of the paper where the letters are to be printed.

To erase the rewritable paper, the film would need to be heated to 115 degrees Celsius, which would turn the dye back from colourless to its original coloured state in less than 10 minutes, thus creating a uniform block of colour.

"The printed letters remain legible with high resolution at ambient conditions for more than three days - long enough for practical applications such as reading newspapers. Better still, our rewritable paper is simple to make, has low production cost, low toxicity and low energy consumption," said Yadong Yin, a professor of chemistry, whose lab led the research.

"Even for this kind of paper, heating to 115 degrees Celsius poses no problem. In conventional laser printers, paper is already heated to 200 degrees Celsius in order to get toner particles to bond to the paper surface."

At the moment, the paper remains legible at a high resolution, but only for just over three days, so the scientists' next mission is to extend the legibility of printed texts or images on the rewritable paper, and also to get the paper to be erased and reused up to 100 times.

"This rewritable paper does not require additional inks for printing, making it both economically and environmentally viable," said Yin.

"It represents an attractive alternative to regular paper in meeting the increasing global needs for sustainability and environmental conservation."