August 9, 2005 4:00 AM PDT

Making paper waterproof--and writable

Sally Ramsey, founder of Ecology Coatings, jerry-rigged an apparatus in her lab to show a chemical company representative how rapidly one of Ecology's coatings dries when exposed to ultraviolet light.

To avoid making a mess, she put a piece of paper underneath the object she wanted to spray.

When cleaning up, Ramsey exposed the paper to UV light to dry it and make it easier to throw away. On a whim, she checked to see if the coating, which was enhanced with nanoparticles, made the paper impervious to pencils or ink.


What's new:
Nanotechnology start-up Ecology Coatings says it has developed a spray-on coating that, when properly dried, waterproofs materials--but still allows them to be written on.

Bottom line:
Ecology Coatings says it is talking with chemical companies about using the coating to waterproof a range of products, from address labels to sporting equipment to shoes.

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"For a minute, I was really disappointed. I could write on it all over the place," she said. "Then something clicked."

It turned out that the coating, in combination with the makeshift apparatus, made the paper waterproof without making it waxy, brittle or changing its other characteristics. The original piece of paper has been submerged in water since June 6. It hasn't dissolved and Ramsey's original writing is still on it. She once even took it out of the water, wrote on it some more, and submerged it again.

"It was kind of a 'MacGyver-ish' sort of thing," she said, referring to the 1980s TV series about a scientifically resourceful secret agent. "It turns out also that the paper greatly slows down the growth of mildew."

Although the process is in its infancy and the competition in industrial chemistry is fierce, Akron, Ohio-based Ecology believes the process could lead to shipping labels and tags impervious to the elements, eliminating the need for separate plastic coverings or for the somewhat expensive waterproof paper tags on the market today.

But that's just a start, say Ramsey and Ecology CEO Rich Stromback, who are already talking to chemical giants about how to bring the material to market. They say the process can be used to spray a waterproof, writable surface on sleeping bags, sporting equipment, shoes, volleyball nets and other items.

Potentially, the material could also get incorporated into building materials and compete against materials like Tyvek, the water- and puncture-resistant material that contractors and others gobble up by the square mile.

Ecology's nano-coating

"I've put it on canvas. I've put it on knit material. I've written with a Sharpie, with a pen, a pencil," said Ramsey. "The world is full of things you could put this on."

Plastics, coatings and other industrial materials have emerged as the test beds for the nanotechnology industry. Early nanotech products include stain-resistant pants, golf balls that correct for a hook or a slice, car panels and lighter bike parts.

What makes these nano-enhanced products superior to conventional products, advocates say, is that a sprinkling of atoms can serve to enhance a feature. Fewer atoms mean less weight and fewer alterations to the overall integrity of the final product. And instead of needing wires, a plastic part can conduct electricity by adding nearly invisible carbon nanotubes.

"If you look at the nano success stories to date, they are all in composite materials and coatings," said Matthew Nordan, an analyst at Lux Research.

Although it only has two employees, Ecology has distinguished itself from the pack of nano start-ups to some degree by cutting licensing deals for its quick-drying, ultraviolet light-activated paint substitute with Red Spot, an automotive equipment specialist, and with DuPont.

"There are innumerable nanotechnology companies that would kill to get the kind of validation these guys have gotten in a very short time," Nordan said. Still, the company faces major economic and technical challenges in moving its products from the lab to actual production, he warned.

How it works
What is the secret sauce behind the company's waterproof paper? Ecology is somewhat vague on that. The coating is a version of the company's UV-curable material. The lab apparatus affects the material in such as way that the coating actually permeates the paper, rather than just forming a layer on top, like a typical coating.

"The apparatus sort of hurls it into the paper," said Ramsey. "It gives the drops some interesting momentum."

Patents on the chemicals and the process are currently being sought. Nonetheless, Stromback added that the process will likely scale to mass production and not require unusual machinery.

"There's nothing that we see that is prohibitive in terms of the process," he said. "The technique can easily be put into place on existing paper production lines."

Stromback added that industrial users may be able to incorporate the material into other products within 18 months to two years. Ecology doesn't engage in manufacturing on its own at the moment, but licenses ideas to established chemical concerns.

Ideally, waterproof paper and labels produced by this process will be far cheaper than today's counterparts. Manufacturers today produce waterproof labels, but it requires embedding polypropylene fibers in paper. The process is expensive but also makes the paper waxy and tough. (Those rubbery parking tickets given out by some cities are made of such material.) Ecology claims its process will cost about 500 times less because ordinary paper can be used.

Additionally, because paper manufacturers coat the paper they produce today, their chemical budget will stay roughly flat because they can substitute the new coating for the old one.

Although the coating prevents mildew growth, Ramsey asserted that the material does not likely pose a health hazard. No toxic materials or fungicides were added. Mildew inhibition may come from the fact that the paper can't get moist.

"This was a very happy accident," Ramsey said.


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Now if they combine technologies
I read this on slashdot. If they can find a way to get the bacteria to target cancer cells they are golden.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mvasilakis (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
water proof paper
Oh good. We've taken something biodegradable and
recycleable and have made it another waste problem.
Can't nanotechnology help us with any current
techonolgical byproduct problems?
Maybe I shouldn't be such a negative thinker. It's that old
Maxotechonology thinking again.
Posted by (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly -- what becomes of the paper after it's used?
Can this "waterproof" paper be recycled? How well does it break down when exposed to the sun for a period of time? Do we need Burger wrappers that never decompose blowing around the neighborhood?

Perhaps some additional research should be performed before this process is marketed.
Posted by 202578300049013666264380294439 (137 comments )
Link Flag
Biodegradability of this new coated paper
That's wonderful and all, but if the paper does not break down and can only be burned to destroy it, then we will need to be extremely careful how it is disposed...
Posted by cgioconda (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Exactly, make paper waterproof and how the heck are we supposed to get rid of it. Will our landfills be full of waterproof paper? Great technology but the repercussions could be astronomical. I hope this "Eco" company and governments think about this before they start mass-producing it.
Posted by (1 comment )
Link Flag
"jury-rigged", not "jerry-rigged"
Although their etymologies are obscure and their meanings
overlap, these are two distinct expressions. Something poorly
built is "jerry-built." something rigged up temporarily in a
makeshift manner with materials at hand, often in an ingenious
manner, is "jury-rigged." "Jerry-built" always has a negative
connotation, whereas one can be impressed by the cleverness of
a jury-rigged solution. Many people cross-pollinate these two
expressions and mistakenly say "jerry-rigged" or "jury-built."

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by daveaschroeder (39 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not obscure
The etymology isn't obscure at all. Jury-rigged is a bastardized copy of jerry-rigged. Someone without understanding the source wrote down what they heard and altered it in the process, jerry-rigged came first and was used by allied troops during World War II to refer to temporary fixes becuase as the war ground to a finish the "jerries" (Germans) were often forced to build makeshift devices because they couldn't get supplies. As their positions were overrun by the allies those makeshift contraptions were examined and the term "jerry-rigged" was coined as a way of describing them.

Trying to say that it should be "jury-rigged" instead of "jerry-rigged" is like trying to say that "bare with me" is preferable to "bear with me".
Posted by 202578300049013666264380294439 (137 comments )
Link Flag
Jerry-rigged is acceptable...
<a class="jive-link-external" href=";q=jerry-rigged" target="_newWindow">;q=jerry-rigged</a>
Posted by Rusdude (170 comments )
Link Flag
who's going to buy it?
My biggest question is who is going to buy it? Aren't we going towards a paperless future? Full of credit-cards and all that stuff.
That might of made a break-throw in the 70's, too late now.
Posted by ramonck (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
There are certainly applications for this...
Printed materials that need to be taken into damp or wet environments (equipment manuals on boats or submarines, etc.), travel journals for explorers in harsh environments, etc.

I share a concern with a previous poster about biodegradability - I don't want to see Staples selling reams of waterproof printer paper - but I can certainly see many practical applications for such technology.
Posted by Harfeld Bilgewing (60 comments )
Link Flag
Who will use it?
People still use cash and cheques. There are still applications for this invention. Books could also be printed with such matterial.
Posted by (41 comments )
Link Flag
I'll buy it.
Paper has a number of advantages over digital "paper replacements". No batteries, easier to tear off and hand to someone else, harder to permanently lose (nothing is lost if you drop paper from three feet onto concrete), free-form writing/drawing, etc.

Not that most of these issues can't be resolved, but I can see using this stuff for my scuba tank labels, diving log, outdoor journal, photography notepads, vehicle log, bartender recipe cards, etc. Just about any time I'm writing outside of a desk environment this stuff will make life easier.

I already buy "rite in the rain" products for some of these purposes, but if this can make that cheaper and feel more natural... I'll buy that instead.
Posted by rabagley (4 comments )
Link Flag
If anyone is going to go camping or for any reason have need of an emergency/survival kit, waterproof paper with tips/instructions etc would be a great asset.
Posted by PinkyG1221 (1 comment )
Link Flag
Another invention by accident...
Ever wonder why some of the greatest inventions are discovered by accident? Accidents are not so bad after all... Hmmm... I bet this paper lasts longer so it can be used to preserve copies of books in libraries and historical archives. I'd love to see this paper in "collector's edition" books. A little luxury won't hurt if it lasts.
Posted by Mendz (519 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Dictionary ...
"The dictionary is thus not necessarily reliable." Has the dictionary
of one country speaking the "same" language ever been reliable in
another country. Its been my experience that another countries
dictionary is no more accurate than a decade old dictionary.

The new or fringe words are generally a problem.
Posted by (12 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just wait...
The industry will begin applying this coating to everything it can get its hands on (more reason to charge higher prices for products).

Twenty years from now, we'll find out the chemical process causes cancer. ;-)
Posted by katamari (310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Would this work?
Interesting article.. the accidental discovery opens up a Pandora's box of applications.. a thought crossed my mind when i read it. Would it be possible to make a writing instrument, which would dispense through the regular ball tip point, a composite fluid made of a heavier pigment for ink, and a lighter "water-proofing" liquid. The pen could also have point sources of UV near the tip. So whenever you wrote on paper, the pigment makes the writing visible. The nano particles in the lighter liquid immediately form a coating on the ink, and shortly afterward, the UV seals the coating, making it moisture proof.
Posted by (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Rite in the Rain products
Sure this new "discovery" is novel, but it does not seem fesable for the uses required of it. Rite in the Rain field notebooks and binders already achived a durable waterproof paper product.
Posted by R.Jefferson (136 comments )
Reply Link Flag
may i asked if what components did you put on the spray...can i use any alternative substance to make the paper waterproof ?...please i need your answer as soon as possible because need it for our intel project..tnx
Posted by dyancamille (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
may i asked if what components did you put on the spray...can i use any alternative substance to make the paper waterproof ?...please i need your answer as soon as possible because need it for our intel project..tnx
Posted by dyancamille (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag

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