2008 Greener Synthetic Pathways Award
Development and Commercialization of Biobased Toner
Innovation and Benefits: Laser printers and copiers use over 400 million pounds of toner each year in the United States. Traditional toners fuse so tightly to paper that they are difficult to remove from waste paper for recycling. They are also made from petroleum-based starting materials. Battelle and its partners, Advanced Image Resources and the Ohio Soybean Council, have developed a soy-based toner that performs as well as traditional ones, but is much easier to remove. The new toner technology can save significant amounts of energy and allow more paper fiber to be recycled.
More than 400 million pounds of electrostatic dry toners based on petroleum-derived resins are used in the United States annually to make more than 3 trillion copies in photocopiers and printers. Conventional toners are based on synthetic resins such as styrene acrylates and styrene butadiene. These conventional resins make it difficult to remove the toner during recycling, a process called de-inking. This makes paper recycling more difficult. Although others have developed de-inkable toners, none of the competing technologies has become commercial due to high costs and inadequate de-inking performance.
With early-stage funding from the Ohio Soybean Council, Battelle and Advanced Image Resources (AIR) formed a team to develop and market biobased resins and toners for office copiers and printers. This novel technology uses soy oil and protein along with carbohydrates from corn as chemical feedstocks. Battelle developed bioderived polyester, polyamide, and polyurethane resins and toners from these feedstocks through innovative, cost-effective chemical modifications and processing, with the de-inking process in mind. By incorporating chemical groups that are susceptible to degradation during the standard de-inking process, Battelle created new inks that are significantly easier to remove from the paper fiber. AIR then scaled up the process with proprietary catalysts and conditions to make the new resins.
The new technology offers significant advantages in recycling waste office paper without sacrificing print quality. Improved de-inking of the fused ink from waste copy paper results in higher-quality recovered materials and streamlines the recycling process. Preliminary life-cycle analysis shows significant energy savings and reduced carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions in the full value chain from resin manufacture using biobased feedstocks to toner production and, finally, to the recovery of secondary fibers from the office waste stream. At 25 percent market penetration in 2010, this technology could save 9.25 trillion British thermal units per year (Btu/yr) and eliminate over 360,000 tons of CO2 emissions per year.
Overall, soy toner provides a cost-effective, systems-oriented, environmentally benign solution to the growing problem of waste paper generated from copiers and printers. In 2006, AIR, the licensee of the technology, successfully scaled up production of the resin and toners for use in HP LaserJet 4250 Laser Printer cartridges. Battelle and AIR coordinated to move from early-stage laboratory development to full-scale manufacturing and commercialization. Their efforts have resulted in a cost-competitive, highly marketable product that is compatible with current hardware. The new toner will be sold under trade names BioRez® and Rezilution®. Once commercial, it will provide users with seamless, environmentally friendly printing and copying.
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