The road towards solvent ZERO

By Dieter Niederstadt, Technical Marketing Manager at Asahi Photoproducts

I remember a colleague, visiting a photopolymer platemaking company and he saw the owners baby sleeping quietly in a room next to the plate production room. There was the smell of solvent odour in the corridors and he was wondering if this must not be the responsibility of the supplier to help in making changes for the better.

Is our industry really doing all it can to ensure the health of mankind? That does not mean that using solvent washouts is inherently harmful or outside of the legal limits, but it is definitely nicer to be inside a pleasant ambient environment without the permanent smell of VOC solvents.

Many companies in our industry use hydrocarbon-based washout solvents in their plate making operations. In order to reduce the use of these chemicals and the resulting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions solvent creates, Asahi Photoproducts has worked for decades to create a solvent “ZERO” environment in the flexographic industry and position those that implement these more sustainable Solvent ZERO platemaking solutions as heroes in their respective companies.

Asahi Photoproducts began producing our first water wash APR resin plates in 1971. Since that time, there have been several industry milestones Asahi has achieved, demonstrating that we are concerned about the environment. These achievements are in line with the philosophy of our parent company, Asahi Kasei, whose products and services are designed to ensure a sustainable contribution to life and living for people around the world. Asahi Kasei has established a whole-of-company goal of carbon neutrality for all of its operations by 2050. 

Our progress toward solvent ZERO

In addition to the first water-wash plate resin in 1971, these milestones include:

– A UVC finishing technique brought to market in 1984. This uses UVC light instead of the chemical bromide that was previously the standard. UVC light finishing has now became an industrial standard.

– In 1998, Asahi brought to market its AWP™ water wash plates, a solid plate featuring unique Asahi technology that not only eliminated the use of solvents in plate processing, but also brought benefits to the press room, including reduction of waste due to their fast run-up and high quality.

– 2012 saw the introduction of our CleanPrint technology, a pinning technology for clean ink transfer, further enhancing both productivity and profitability in the press room. With CleanPrint, clean ink transfer means fewer press stops for plate cleaning, dramatically reducing waste in the press room.

– In 2023, we introduced our AFP-R™ solvent wash eco plates that significantly reduce the amount of solvent required in plate processing and speed up platemaking times by over 40% for those who are not yet ready to abandon solvent wash plates.

– And in 2023, we introduced AWP-LOOP™, a waste water recycling system for our plate processors, resulting in a 70% reduction in water use and a 50% reduction in detergent use.

– We are now introducing the ability to use dishwashing detergent in the platemaking process instead of our 6% washout additive, increasing sustainability for our water-wash plates even more. It is also easier and less costly for customers, and in combination with LOOP, they can boost up the water recycling rate to 85%. The ultimate goal of our AWP roadmap is to bring to market a new AWP™ plate that uses pure tap water in the washing process without any detergent, another Solvent ZERO milestone, we are working toward achieving in 2024.

Why solvent ZERO?

At Asahi Photoproducts, we believe we have a unique product offering that ticks all the boxes for a printer/converter: sustainability, quality and productivity. In addition, it is no secret that awareness of the environmental issues the world faces has grown in recent years, as it has become more evident that there are harmful effects from the climate crisis that continue to threaten the quality of life and living.

This is especially true of the younger generation, who expect new product solutions that have a focus on sustainability. While we are mindful that photopolymer printing plates are not classified as “green” products, since they are made from non-renewable materials, we also realise that the status quo must be challenged; that there are steps that can be taken to create new and more sustainable products and solutions, continuing to reduce the carbon footprint of the flexo platemaking process and materials.

These are steps that we are passionately pursuing – and have been – since our early water-wash resin plates introduced in 1971. Our goal is to be in compliance with independent PAS 2060 audits and to avoid any appearance of greenwashing.

These are the reasons that Asahi has chosen to pursue Solvent ZERO, which delivers a smaller carbon footprint vs. the status quo – and in some cases has been certified Carbon Neutral – as well as a cleaner and more pleasant work environment for the talented printing industry workers.

It is completely in line with our parent company’s philosophy of creating harmony for life and living by using cutting-edge chemistry to achieve a better world. The last decade of global warming has not changed our approach, but it has accelerated our speed in product development, to bring these sustainable solutions to market faster. And we believe the industry will recognise the value of switching from solvent-wash plate processing at a faster rate as well, as all of us work together to reduce global warming.

All Asahi AWP™ CleanPrint plates are water washable. The AWP™-DEW plates are already certified Carbon Neutral in collaboration with the Carbon Trust and the AWP™-CleanFlat plates are currently in the final stages of the Carbon Neutral approval program. This achievement is well ahead of the corporate goal of carbon neutrality by 2050 and we are proud to be able to bring this proof of sustainability to our customers. They in turn can use the status as they calculate their own carbon footprint, helping them to reduce carbon emissions and deliver more sustainable products to their customers, who are increasingly demanding that they do so.

Keep in mind that Carbon Neutral is not one and done. It is an ongoing process and in order to maintain Carbon Neutral status, we must continue to find ways to continue to decrease carbon emissions associated with the products and reduce or eliminate the need to depend on carbon offsets. This requires a mindset change throughout the organisation, and we are working hard on that cultural change as well, especially in our product development departments.