A wooden computer chip has brought us one step closer to a truly environmentally friendly smartphone.
A team at the University of Wisconsin-Madison has teamed up with the US Department of Agriculture to create the biodegradable semiconductor.
The computer is actually built from a material called cellulose nanofibril (CNF), which is a flexible, biodegradable material made from wood.
The research team was led by engineering professor Zhenqiang ‘Jack’ Ma. He hopes the chip will help reduce the damage caused by discarding electronics that contain toxic materials.
“The majority of material in a chip is support,” explained Ma. “We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else.”
Ma added: “Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertiliser.”
Zhiyong Cai, another contributor to the research, said: “If you take a big tree and cut it down to the individual fibre, the most common product is paper. The dimension of the fibre is in the micron stage.”
He continued: “But what if we could break it down further to the nano scale? At that scale you can make this material, very strong and transparent CNF paper.”
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It’s not the first time we’ve seen wood in our tech; Motorola famously offered wooden customisable backs for its Moto X smartphone series.
If semiconductors can also be produced from wood, it means we’ll potentially see less long-term damage to the planet as a result of binned phones.
“Mass-producing current semiconductor chips is so cheap, and it may take time for the industry to adapt to our design,” said Ma.
He added: “But flexible electronics are the future, and we think we’re going to be well ahead of the curve.”