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Inks used for ceramic digital printing are truly engineered products encompassing colorant, solvent and a range of additives, that must meet the expected performance of the final product, in terms of both materials properties and aesthetic quality, and keep chemical and physical properties acceptable by ink-jet printers, like viscosity and surface tension.
Solvent-based pigmented and solvent soluble inks still suffer from relevant technical and industrial drawbacks, for example the solvent-based pigmented inks have a particle size distribution with a D100 (it is the value of the particle diameter at 100% in the cumulative distribution) < 1 micron, thus in the nano powder range, leading to toxicological issues.
Among the solvent-based pigmented inks, the cyan blue production is environmentally and humanly critical because of the usage of Cobalt (Co), a hazardous transition metal in the ink formulation.
Although the Cobalt is in many living organisms, including humans, its biological importance is due to vitamin B12 needed for animal feed and to its positive influence as trace element on growth of plants. The cobalt falls within the structure of vitamin B-12, allowing the synthesis of intestinal flora, activating numerous enzymes and metabolic processes and promoting the formation of red blood cells.
However, when taken in high concentration and/or prolonged exposure, the Cobalt can induce adverse health effects such as thyroid enlargement, red blood cells increase, dysentery, palpitations, numbness of fingers and toes. The exposure to the cobalt dust may cause weight loss, dermatitis and respiratory hypersensitivity.
In addition, the Cobalt powder can ignite spontaneously in air for which the Cobalt compounds and its derivatives must be handled with care.
The International Association for Cancer Research (AIRC) categorized Cobalt and cobalt compounds within the 2B group (carcinogenic agent for human being).
Regarding the effect of cobalt on the environment, it is a natural element presented in air, water, soil, rocks, plants and animals.
The industrial activities add cobalt by downloading small quantities into the atmosphere from burning coal mining and extraction, treating of minerals containing cobalt and from the production and use of the cobalt-based chemicals.
All this fosters the cobalt bioaccumulation in animals and in plants exposing humankind to greater amounts of cobalt.
The Toxic-Free Water-Based Cyan Ink project aims at developing and testing the feasibility and viability of a new eco formulation of a water-based cyan ink, suitable for the digital printing of tiles, which is based on water + non-toxic or bioadsorbable cobalt derivatives to minimize the exposure to not environmental friendly chemicals in tiles, humans (during production) and in the environment.
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