The first prize in the Materials and Basic Science and Technology category of the Wall Street Journal’s Technology Innovation Awards went to Taiwan’s Industrial Technology Research Institute (ITRI) for developing paper.
Of course it’s got to be some kind of special paper, considering that the Chinese first invented paper more than 2000 years ago. And yes, in today’s digital world, the invention relates to flexible electronic paper that is re-writeable and re-useable.
The electronic paper is made of a flexible cholesteric liquid crystal panel. “Cholesteric” because the molecular structure is similar to that of cholesterol- the same vilified stuff that can cause arteries to clog up and lead to serious health problems.
Unlike LCD panels, this electronic paper uses ambient light sources to display 16 grey level images. The 300 dpi resolution text and images are transferred using heat, much as thermal fax machines did. ITRI estimates that the electronic paper can be written on more than 250 times before it needs to be replaced.
All the materials at the end of the electronic paper’s useful life are recyclable. This kind of electronic paper can easily find application in advertising banners, corporate visitor identification badges and so on.
ITRI is in discussion with various manufacturers. It has already licenced the technology to Taiwan-based ChangChun Plastics, which expects to begin trial mass production next year.
Once it is commercially available through multiple sources and cost is not prohibitive, it is only a matter of time before this electronic paper catches on and enters the world of magazines and newspapers as well. Come to think of it, this may give the word “e-book” a new meaning altogether.