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E-paper Must Overcome Hurdles To Reap Green Benefits

E-paper won’t do to the publishing world what the MP3 player did to the music industry quite yet but there could be environmental benefits, say analysts

It might be good for the environment for us to read our news on flexible plastic displays instead of paper, but analysts say the technology needs to improve significantly according to analysts – especially when it comes to something paper cannot do: video.

As well as offering a potentially less environmentally harmful alternative to tree-hungry traditional paper, e-paper could offer a more energy efficient approach to existing electronic signage, according to analyst group Gartner.

“Low power consumption is the main driver for e-paper adoption in most cases and this is enabling initial applications in signage, static displays and small information-centric screens,” Gartner stated. “Low power consumption also boosts e-paper’s green credentials. Its potential environmental benefits are significant, resulting in the saving of trees, preventing the generation of waste water and reducing the emissions of green house gases.”

However environmentalists are sure to scrutinise any sweeping claims made about the sustainability of e-paper versus the traditional kind to make sure that ecological damage of one kind isn’t simply being swapped for other less obvious forms. A 2007 study by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm showed reading on e-paper for 30 minutes produced the same load on the environment as reading a web-based publication for 10 minutes.

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And even if the potential environmental benefits prove accurate, Gartner vice-president Jim Tully said that there are some significant issues with the technology at the moment which will need to be addressed before so-called e-books and e-newspapers are more widely adopted. “E-paper does have has some barriers to overcome before gaining credibility with the mainstream market,” he said.

Issues include the fact that the ability to handle multiple colours for many e-paper technologies is poor as is the ability to deal with moving images.”A compromise must be found between the requirements for full-motion video and low power consumption,” Gartner stated.

As with any emerging technology, price is also a problem the analyst group said. “The cost of e-paper displays will need to fall further if it is to act as a viable mainstream alternative to print media, especially as the falling costs and increasing quality of alternative technologies – such as organic light-emitting diode (OLED) and liquid crystal display (LCD) – could moderate the growth potential of e-paper.”

Existing e-paper technologies include electrophoretic e-paper, where the image is generated by an array of electrically charged particles suspended in fluid. The technology is currently used in devices such as the Amazon Kindle, Sony Librie reader and Plastic Logic’s e-newspaper. Another form is Electronic liquid powder (ELP) from Bridgestone, which uses a similar electrophoretic approach to E Ink’s e-paper, but with the ELP particles suspended in air instead of fluid.

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