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Biodegradable inks enable eco-friendly printing

24/11/2011

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A Delhi-based company is at the forefront of eco-innovation in ink production. Its biodegradable inks allow for eco-friendly printing and high-efficiency recycling of printed paper.

When university graduates Sidhartha Bhimania and Krishna Gopal Singh set up EnNatura in 2007, their ambition was not just to create a viable business but one that would also have a positive impact on people’s lives. Building on research carried out at the Indian Institute of Technology, the two young entrepreneurs focused on the production of a biodegradable ink specifically targeting the offset printing market.

Offset printing consumes around three million tonnes of hydrocarbon-based inks and chemicals every year, and about 500 000 tonnes of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are released into the atmosphere. VOCs are emitted when ink dries on paper and when presses are washed between print runs. These emissions are a major contributor to global warming and are also harmful to the health of millions of workers in the global print industry.

Safer and more eco-friendly inks have come on the market but, in general, take-up has been limited owing to their higher cost and inferior quality to petroleum-based inks. The challenge for EnNatura, therefore, was to create an ink that would not only be eco-friendly but would also be cost effective while having the vivid colours of conventional ink. "This is always a concern for printers: if they're going for biodegradable or eco-friendly stuff, will it be of the same quality as the petroleum-based products," says Mr Bhimania, the company chief executive officer.

This problem was solved by developing a special resin, which was combined with a non-edible vegetable oil to produce a biodegradable ink that produced no VOCs. Because the new resin is acidic in nature, it can be washed off using a mildly alkaline aqueous wash solution, which also eliminates the need for hydrocarbon-based washing solutions. The entire process is therefore emission free and also more cost effective, with overall costs reduced by up to one-third.

EnNatura’s innovative ink chemistry also makes it easier to recycle paper waste. A major hurdle in paper recycling is the high cost of separating ink to obtain clean paper. EnNatura's ink eases detachment during the de-inking process, greatly reducing energy consumption and cost. This patented technology could, therefore, be seen as a particularly attractive option for printing businesses seeking to enhance their green credentials.

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