When research and sustainability go hand in hand

By 14 Oct 2021

Dr Ruchi Gupta, a researcher and author of Connecting Research to Revenue, in an interaction with Aultrin Vijay, talks about biodegradable inks, sustainability, and the importance of research and development in the packaging inks, adhesives and coatings segments

Gupta: Biodegradable ink is the next big thing to take over, as it will help ease the recycling process of post-consumer waste

Printing inks has been witnessing changes in terms of product development for the past couple of years, thanks to research and development by manufacturers. Of late, the move towards sustainability has paved way for biodegradable inks to enter the market – inks that can be used in compostable packaging.

In her new book – Connecting Research to Revenue – Dr Ruchi Gupta writes about the importance of research and development in generating long term sustainable growth.

Gupta is an author and a researcher with 16 years of experience researching several chemistries and molecules for developing new products to be used in segments such as inks, adhesive, radiation curable coatings, packaging products, natural polymer with specialty range of polymers and personal care. Gupta, who has received a doctorate in chemistry, has also worked with UFlex as part of the development team developing sustainable inks.

Published by Clever Fox Publishing, the book “highlights not only the importance of research, but also to understand why research has not been regarded as a primary need” for industries. Excerpts from the interview:

Aultrin Vijay (AV): Could you please tell us about your new book?
Ruchi Gupta (RG): This book has been written to highlight the importance of research, and why it is not being considered as a primary need. It touches upon current research mindset, industry mindset, and how we can bridge the gap between them to establish innovative and sustainable products. Companies do hesitate to develop entirely new product ranges because of the uncertainty in research. Instead, they update their existing products, which leads to competition within the company. This could impact the cost, or even survival, of the product segment. My intention is to get all industry stakeholders to generate confidence in research where innovative products would be the key results. In the next 10 years, we can create a research-based foundation for all product ranges and India can lead from the front as an innovative country.

AV: Many companies are afraid to invest in research. What do you have to say about that?
RG: Yes, it’s true that companies hesitate to invest in research. There is a valid reason. Research is the foundation of need. We do research for the need by keeping science (logic) and history in mind. Research is not 100% certain in terms of time, cost and money if proper efforts and knowhow is not applied.

The reason behind companies hesitating to invest in research is because it’s an additional investment that does not generate any direct return on investment (ROI). But that’s the one side of the coin. A thorough research can certainly improve ROI with a single innovative product. Once this understanding is developed, the attention will be towards the results.

AV: What are considered during a research project?
RG: When we deal with any research project, the basic aspect is the current need of the market. The first step is to decide what type of product we are looking to develop and how we can develop it by keeping a few factors in mind such as time, cost, environment, sustainability, and viability.

The second step is to implement logic or science to complete the target research project. The third step is to capture and satisfy the market. For research, these three steps are equally important and that’s how a research-based product gets designed.

AV: Is India lagging in terms of research when compared to other nations?
RG: In my view, India is lagging when it comes to chemical manufacturing industries. India, as of now, is not driven by research for designing new product ranges. But the good news is that companies have started leaning towards research. I am sure that after a few years, our country will be known for its research-based products.

AV: What are the latest developments in the ink segment?
RG: If we talk about printing inks, in the last five to seven years, it has been a product of change with a lot of developments. We have developed various segments of ink such as solvent-based ink and water-based inks. It includes non-toluene non-ketone (NT-NK) inks, UV curable inks, EB curable inks.

Every segment of inks has been designed by keeping sustainability and cost in mind. Huge potential has been invested in bringing a solution to the door of printers with a sustainable solution with a broad spectrum. Universal ink systems, which are not substrate specific, have also been developed.

Biodegradable ink is the next big thing to take over, as it will help ease the recycling process of post-consumer waste. 

AV: How can biodegradable inks ease recycling?
RG: Biodegradable inks need not to be separated or segregated from the post-consumer waste, as these inks are designed to biodegrade when exposed to a specific environment.

AV: What is your opinion about switching to biodegradable inks?
RG: It is certainly the need of the hour to switch to biodegradable inks as it can help solve the biggest problem printing and packaging industries are facing – recycling. Biodegradable inks can not only help in terms of environment but also open the door to use natural polymers-based binding systems. Natural polymers are best biodegradable polymers and are versatile, very cost effective and environment friendly. It’s all thanks to our agricultural background and we should really use this as our plus point.

AV: Can biodegradable inks provide the versatility of conventional inks?
RG: Yes, 100%! It can fulfil all the basic requirements an ink should have. Ink system consists of a few components such as binders, pigment/dye, and medium to apply (solvent/water) cure and some additives for specific uses. Binders and pigment are major components to replace when it comes to biodegradable inks. So, these two components can easily be replaced by natural polymers and natural dyes. They are versatile enough to achieve the desired print quality and durability.

AV: Are there any drawbacks to biodegradable inks?
RG: Yes, there are few drawbacks and challenges, the major ones being the shelf-life of the ink and sustainability on substrate. But it can be taken care of by manoeuvring the chemistry of the base binding system.

Natural resources do have limitations on shelf-life. As they can biodegrade, it can impact the product life, too. However, this can be addressed by placing the biodegradable ink at specific environmental conditions for storage.

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