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Much ado about information storage media

This spring and summer has seen a rash of announcements regarding improvements to optical storage media. The market for these discs is expected to continue its swift growth as large companies try to get to grips with archiving and organizing their institutional knowledge, and consumers require greater storage for the millions of songs, digital photos, and movies they are acquiring.

One of the buzzwords in this market is Blu-ray, and new film technology enables cost-effective mass production of Blu-ray discs, says specialty chemicals and plastics supplier Degussa (Düsseldorf, Germany). These discs'' information layer is only .1 mm below the surface, allowing a smaller spot size of the laser beam and so providing greater storage capacity than on a DVD. To date, production costs have hindered their acceptance, but Degussa''s Plexiglas business unit says its patent-pending polycarbonate film, Europlex PC 0F405, meets quality requirements and economic production needs.

Cooperation partners Philips, Singulus (which manufactures machines for disc production), and Sony have already manufactured functioning Blu-ray disc samples based on this film. Degussa is supplying the film from a pilot plant but by mid-2006 expects to have capacity to meet demand for up to 500 million Blu-ray discs per year.

In other news, Bayer MaterialScience signed a joint development agreement with InPhase Technologies Inc (Longmont, CO) for development of holographic storage media with storage capacity to 1.6 terabytes, about 50 times the storage capacity of a digital video disc (DVD). Bayer anticipates such a development could generate a new market for its materials.

Lucent Technologies and Bell Labs formed InPhase in late 2000. Bayer MaterialScience will acquire $5 million in InPhase equity and has acquired a license to use the research results gleaned from its work with InPhase, as well as InPhase''s fundamental know-how on the subject of holography, for applications that extend beyond the field of optical storage media. InPhase next year is scheduled to launch a holographic data storage medium based on products from Bayer MaterialScience and a recording and reading device with a capacity of 300 GB.

Bayer is tackling the disc market from many sides. The supplier, with masterbatches and pigments supplier Clariant and Palazzago, Italy-based CD-R manufacturer Advanced Digital Media (ADM), collaborated to produce what the firms say is the first colored CD-R (recordable compact disc) for the European market. Bayer officials reckon colors could spur sales among young consumers, who might color-code their discs to organize them. Colors are achieved using the Milena color concentrates developed by Bayer specifically for the optical data storage media. Bayer also announced installation at its optical disc laboratories in Shanghai and Leverkusen with new DVD-R production lines manufactured by Singulus. By Bayer''s reckoning, recordable CDs and DVDs, almost unknown five years ago, now account for almost half of optical data storage media sales. Last year about 800,000 tonnes of PC were molded into these discs, according to Bayer, with about a third of that in Asia.

Competing PC supplier GE Advanced Materials (GEAM; Bergen Op Zoom, Netherlands) says that its engineering thermoplastics compounding subsidiary, LNP Engineering Plastics, is using GEAM''s Lexan polycarbonate for its new D Series Stat-Loy materials. These are said to help enhance data security on optical data storage media by coupling polycarbonate''s impact resistance with antistatic properties. Surface resistance of discs molded from these compounds is sufficient to prevent dust collection or static discharges from the discs, according to GEAM. One commercial user is Plasmon (Cambridge, England), which specified the material for the shells of its UDO (Ultra Density Optical) media used by businesses to archive data. -

Matthew Defosse [email protected]

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