The Chemistry of Paper


One of the things taken for granted most in life is paper. It is so universal and useful in ways we forget. To make sure paper gets its debut, here is all its importance in one spot.

Composition of ...

-cellulose (C6H10O5)

-[if the paper is coated] china clay (Al2O3SiO22H2O)

-[or other types of bleaching components] hydrogen peroxide (H2O2)

Main Chemicals, Compounds, Components

The two most important components to paper are the cellulose and the bleach, if and when it is used. Cellulose is found in plants and is protected by lignin (C9H10O2). Cellulose is great for papermaking because of its adequate tensile strength and suppleness, or its flexibility. Not only that but the fibers that comprise cellulose bond just so perfectly after being wetted and dried that it creates what we know and use as paper. Bleach, the other important ingredient, is used to create higher quality paper. Without the bleach, paper would turn yellows and browns because of the traces of lignin. Society is focused quite a bit on appearance so when the paper is bleached it automatically makes it better.

Chemistry's Role

In order to have paper, chemistry must be put to use. The main ways chemistry is used in creating paper is when the lignin is dissolved in the water and taken from the cellulose. The next way chemistry is used is when the fibrils from the cellulose bond together to form a compact structure called paper. When the characteristics of something changes when it gets wet and then returns to dry, one could guess that chemistry was at play!

Background Research

The first place paper is seen in history is in China around 105 AD. A man by the name of Ts’ai Lun created paper so as to help governmental administration. This idea of “paper” begins to spread all over Asia. It reached Japan in 610 AD where they began making it in mass portions. Both the Chinese and Japanese made their paper from the inner bark of the mulberry tree. Once word spread to East Asia, the paper making process was being perfected. Arabians used screens made of reeds throughout the pulping process which, in turn, produced better paper.

History reveals the first export of paper to Europe in the 14th century and just like the Arabians, the Italians introduced multiple steps in the improvement of paper like having the paper pressed and drying the paper on ropes. The mass production and exportation of paper spread all through the 15th and 16th centuries in Europe.

With such high demand for paper, more and more ways of improving the production surfaced. One major technological advancement was the “Hollander beater,” which helped make pulp and was created by the Dutch. The next advancement was using wood instead of straw or rags. After that, machines were advanced and production increased by the minute. Another advancement was made after different pulping techniques were tried. Mechanical pulping yields newspaper and tissue paper since that type of pulping poorly removes lignin. Kraft pulping was the complete opposite. The Germans created this type of pulping. When pulp is put through this process, the outcome is a much stronger and higher quality paper since most of the lignin is filtered out. The kraft pulping yields brown paper bags and paper equivalent to this strength. A lastly type of pulping was a chemical pulp. During this process certain chemicals are used to break down the lignin so the cellulose can be extracted and processed into paper. After the pulping is finished, we advanced into bleaching the paper in order to have higher quality paper.


About the Author

Konner Hall is a senior at Senior High School in Billings, MT. She is an active student in her school participating in National Honors Society, Senior Advocates, track and field, and symphonic band. She enjoys learning and longs for more knowledge. Konner is attending the University of Montana Western in Dillon, MT this fall for her first semester of college. For she knows the plans God has for her: plans to help her prosper and to not harm her; plans for her future. (Jeremiah 29:11)