From Papyrus to E-Paper (2)


In this article, we resume our journey through time and space with the history of paper industry that began around 5000 years ago, as the Ancient Egyptians introduced writing on papyrus. Since then, paper has gone through various stages of development, and is now available in various types and forms.

The Papermaking Revolution

The 18th century witnessed the establishment of larger-scale papermaking operations and the introduction of sophisticated machinery. In 1799, the French J. L. Robert built the first paper machine, which was handle operated. This machine produced seamless lengths of paper with squeeze rollers instead of the traditional single hand-made sheets; it was further developed in England by Bryan Donkin and by the Fourdrinier brothers.

A major advance in papermaking was in the 19th century when the serious shortage of raw textile materials necessitated the search for alternatives. In 1843, Saxon Friedrich Gottlob Keller introduced wood cellulose pulp as a major element in the paper industry. This milestone was soon followed by an alternative idea to turn wood into paper; namely a chemical pulp patented in 1854 by Hugh Burgers and Charles Watt. Chemical wood pulps were developed using soda and sulfite, which are responsible for paper brightness, strength, and permanence.

That century also witnessed the invention of more advanced machinery. Machines were continually improved with the rise of the Industrial Revolution, making the production process fully automated, and leading to a considerable spread of paper production worldwide. Furthermore, in the second half of the 19th century, machines designed for particular paper products appeared, such as the Yankee Machine for tissue paper production.

Same as anything else, papermaking technologies advanced rapidly and dramatically during the 20th century and the 21st century. New raw materials were developed; some paper types even necessitated their own raw material supply; and new paper types were introduced: printing papers such as Light Weight Coated (LWC), wrapping paper, writing paper, drawing paper, banknote paper, and others. Another revolutionary change is the astounding drop in paper prices; nowadays, paper can be enameled, creped, waterproofed, waxed, glazed, sensitized, bent, folded, molded, dissolved, and recycled.


Computer technologies introduced advanced word processing applications where the user inputs data through keyboards; can save, edit and format it, and even print it if required. These applications, in addition to the Portable Document Format (PDF) software, have given access to billions of documents, papers and books in softcopy formats, saving huge amounts of natural resources, money and avoiding environmental impacts associated with paper production.

The last technological advance in papermaking comes with the introduction of Electronic Paper. Though the technology behind it was pioneered in the 1970s, E-Paper is still not widely into the market. E-papers are fine, bendable, and foldable plastic display surfaces that, unlike other display surfaces, reflect rather than emit light, making it more comfortable to read.

These papers are created by placing tiny plastic containers―each containing white and black particles―between two flexible plastic sheets. The white and black particles have opposite charges; when charged, particles can be separated to opposite sides generating black text or a picture against a white background. Nowadays, E-papers provide full-color ability; the power requirements for E-paper displays are also much lower than for traditional displays

Paper has been used as raw material for huge projects. It remains the best and most prevalent way to view and store information, and to disseminate human knowledge and experience.


Top image: Employees flying ahead paper. Credit: Freepik.

This article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Spring 2013 issue.

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