In the process of deciding what our project would be, we thought that we should choose something that would apply to our own community, as well as the international community. This idea led us to look into products that are used worldwide, and one of the things we found was ink. It is used in schools, homes, and nearly all workplaces. We then decided to go to the public and explore the idea of an innovation for ink as a viable product. After some research, we discovered that the ink is made up of three main parts; the resin, the solvent, and the colorant. Further research also led us to discover that the colorant is responsible for over 50% of the cost of ink. This led us to investigate the colorants themselves and we found that the production of colorants and pigments creates some horrible byproducts, such as large amounts of greenhouse gases, PCBs (polychlorinated byphenyls) and VOCs (volatile organic compounds). We took a tour of the Warwick Printing company in our hometown of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada and learned about how the ink is used in the industrial sector. We also learned from the owner Dave Warwick some of the important qualities of ink. For more information concerning the Warwick tour, click here.
Choosing our Project
After our initial research and our investigation into the industry and market we chose to do a project on ink. We then needed to decide what sort of problems existed within ink production and usage. The cost breakdown of ink led us to decide to focus on the colorant portion of ink as it accounts for the majority of the cost. This led us to research colorants and how they are made and used. We found that there are a few different colorants, pigments, organic molecules, and inorganic salts or compounds. We found that the most used and in highest demand colorant was carbon black, which is the byproduct of burning petroleum for energy (Figure 1). We had found our problem! Harmful byproducts of carbon black production are plentiful. We decided to combat this problem by producing a colorant of our own. We chose to produce four pigments in the colors cyan, magenta, yellow and black. These are made from different plant and bacteria genes using synthetic biology (Figure 2).
Figure 1: The process of carbon black production as a byproduct of burning petroleum for energy.
Figure 2: Our process of pigment production using synthetic biology and four constructs which will be put into bacterial cultures.
Our final decision led us to SynthetINK, the environmentally friendly pigment production. We will be creating four pigments that are found in different organisms such as apple trees or petunias. We have selected the genes that will allow us to have the optimal production of pigment from our bacteria and media. Our project is designed to solve the problem of harmful byproducts of ink colorant production, and it does just that. We can produce pigments using synthetic biology and extract and purify them while producing minimal byproducts, which include Carbon dioxide and other cellular debris. Our project will become more applicable as the world shifts more and more towards green energy. As the world starts to move away from burning fossil fuels for energy, the source of carbon black will decrease in demand, while the demand for colorants is ever-increasing. This is where we come in. Our project will be able to fill the need for colorants and that is where it will be most applicable. Our business plan and market analysis showed us that as it stands we would not be able to make our project into a company on our own as we cannot compete with the market giants, but if we were able to somehow sell or licence our technology to a company then we might be able to get our project out early into use in the large industry. For more information concerning the business plan, click here.