'De-printing' tech featured in BBC documentary

Reep's laser system in action. Image: BBC
Reep's laser system in action. Image: BBC

Israeli tech developer Reep Technologies gained exposure on the BBC this week for its “circular printing” system for erasing printed matter so that sheets of paper can be re-used.

The BBC’s energy and environment analyst Roger Harrabin explored the technique in a documentary on climate technology solutions, The Art of Cutting Carbon. 

Harrabin described the Reep technique as “so bold, brilliant and extraordinary… that you will think it is a trick” as he watched the system being demonstrated by erasing a section of black text printed on an A4 sheet. 

The Reep tech requires paper to have a special coating. It uses green lasers for “de-printing” the sheet, and claims to “completely remove all the ink from the page”.

“Implemented initially for copier paper, the system allows users to print and re-print on the same sheet of paper, up to 10 times,” Reep states on its website.

The firm also claimed it was the first de-printing technology to receive a 100% score on deinking association Ingede’s industry-standard deinking test.

“For the first time since the invention of printing, Reep empowers a circular economy model. The Reep system transforms the carbon footprint of office printing, reducing carbon emissions and resource consumption by over 90%,” the firm said. 

In Harrabin’s report, Reep co-founder and CEO Barak Yekutiely described the laser system as evaporating the ink. “What’s left is pigments and that we collect and those pigments can be recycled back into new printer inks,” he stated. 

At the time of writing it wasn’t clear which types of printing methods the Reep system would potentially be compatible with, but it seems to be focused on office printing and copying in the first instance. 

The firm is looking for organisations with a commitment to sustainability to join its pilot programme.

Somewhat ironically, paper manufacturers have been short of white paper for recycling due to the impact of the pandemic and the explosion in demand for corrugated packaging. 

It’s not the first time that “de-printing” has been contemplated or attempted. 

A decade ago scientists at the University of Cambridge came up with the idea of vaporising toner using short pulses of a green laser to “unprint” paper. 

Printer manufacturer Toshiba also developed erasable toner using a heating method and its own proprietary toner. It brought the product to market in the shape of its Eco MFP office printer featuring normal black and erasable blue toner, allowing paper to be erased and reused.  

Erasable printing using nanoparticles has also been featured in at least one US patent application.