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The Final Word by Chuck Swann
On a recent vacation trip to Egypt, I was guided to an upscale shop that sells beautiful prints depicting things the artists imagined about ancient Egypt. These prints are screened on actual papyrus sheets--papyrus from which we derive the word paper. Yes, I bought one, but first I got a quick explanation of how papyrus is made.

The papyrus plant is a reed that grows tall along the banks of the Nile River. First, you peel it, then you slice the inner flesh into very thin strips, which you then soak in water for about a month. You then lay these strips out, back and forth, crosswise. Then you press this arrangement under a heavy weight for another month. The result is a sheet in which your alternating strips are can easily be distinguished, but in which the fibers have become surprisingly strongly bonded.

We have noted recently operations deriving fiber from such diverse sources as bamboo, banana stalks and wheat straw. In less recent years, some entrepreneurs had big ideas about making paper from the arundo donax weed. And many billions of cigarette papers have been made from flax straw.

More recently we have seen a spate of news about paper being made from stone. To be specific, the stone is limestone (calcium carbonate) ground to powder and mixed with fraction of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) as a binder. The result is a strong and durable paper-like sheet that can be used for many applications, especially where water resistance is imperative. Some younger reporters have written more or less excitedly about stone-based paper as the next revolution in papermaking.

Actually, the process for making paper from limestone was developed in Taiwan during the late 1990s, at least 20 years ago. Limestone-based paper has now been patented in more than 40 countries. This product has a number of advantages over traditional paper. It is acid-free with a neutral pH, has no grain, is water and grease-resistant and strongly resists tearing. Because of its smooth surface, it needs no coating or lamination.

So...will limestone paper actually become a big item in the papermaking world? After all, limestone is the most plentiful and easily available mineral on the planet. We don't know what the future holds; but time will tell. Stay tuned.

Chuck Swann is Senior Editor of Paperitalo Publications.

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