Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Paper from plastics! An environment friendly technology

A new technology called Cronology developed in Mexico seems to be headed for adoption by the paper industry which is being criticized by the environmentalist for massive deforestation in obtaining their input materials. An indirect beneficiary will be the plastic waste recycling industry which seeks to reduce the environment pollution through reprocessing the plastic waste into useful products. While recycling does help in getting a temporary reprieve in terms of pollution, ultimately plastics end up in landfills staying there for more than 800 years without getting degraded. The paper obtained by the new technology is claimed to be photodegradable decomposing within 6 months. Here is a take on this exciting technological development about which lot will be heard in the coming years.

"A group of young entrepreneurs from Mexico has developed a system that converts PET bottles into mineral paper and which they claim will save up to 20 trees and 56,000 liters of water per ton of paper produced. The photodegradable, waterproof paper can be used to print books, boxes and general stationery. "By not cutting trees, nor using water we reduce costs and help the planet," says Ever Adrian Nava, cofounder of the Cronology company, located in Ecatepec, a municipality in Mexico State, just north from Mexico City. The Cronology process is claimed to be 15 percent cheaper than traditional paper manufacture because it doesn't use chemicals, like chlorine, or water. Although countries like Spain and Taiwan already use similar processes to manufacture mineral paper (also known as peta paper or stone paper), its developers say the Cronology system is four times cheaper than conventional methods. The original idea for this type of paper is to reduce production costs and deforestation. Mexico currently produces 700,000 tons of paper each year, mostly for books and notebooks, but also for wrapping papers and toilet paper. Ever Nava says that producing one ton of traditional paper has an effect on the environment for 100 years, but that mineral paper eliminates that, with 235 kg (518 lb) of pellets, or PET beads, obtained using recycled plastic bottles, calcium carbonate and stone, capable of producing a ton of the mineral paper. "The mineral paper is stronger than the standard, you can not break it with your hands, it is waterproof, has the quality of being photodegradable and only absorbs the necessary amount of ink when printing," says Ever Nava. Recycled plastic bottles are first crushed with various pieces of calcium carbon to form pellets (plastic beads), which are then subjected to a casting process at over a 100° C (212° F), before being rolled to form large sheets of paper. The paper degrades in just six months, with the company saying the only downside is that ink gels can't be used on it because they contain alcohol, which the paper does not support."

What is more interesting is the water saved by this process in making high quality paper compared to traditional paper making from wood. Already forests are being denuded in South America massively for planting Palm plants for oil. Demand for palm oil, one of the cheapest oils in the world is literally exploding because of its dual utility as a food ingredient as well as a fossil fuel substitute. PET, also known as polyester, is chemically Polyethylene Terephthalate and world produces about 25 million tons annually out of which only 30% is used for bottle production remaining going into textile industry. Also known as Dacron or Terylene or Lavasa, fabrics made from PET are extraordinarily strong and crease resistant. The new technology to convert PET into paper can thus be a large industry capable of solving one of the most vexing issues facing mankind viz disposing of 25 million tons of PET into useful products with excellent environmental credentials. Another beauty is that the technology uses comparatively lower temperatures, about 100C while for recycling it has to be done at temperatures beyond 250C. Thus PET paper production technology can be a win-win situation for all the stake holders connected with PET industry.  


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