New biodegradable computer chip is made from trees

As a way to combat the potentially toxic, metallic waste created by computer components that are thrown away, researchers from the University of Wisconson-Madison (UWM) have come up with a new kind of semiconducting chip–created from trees. It turns out that the actual conductive materials on a chip don't take up nearly as much space as the supporting materials, which are usually non-biodegradable plastics and metal. The researchers developed a method to create biodegradable chips from wood pulp, similar to paper.

The chip's substrate, supporting base-layer is made from the wood-derivative cellulose nanofibril (CNF). The scientists recently published their findings in the journal, Nature Communications. Co-author Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma, relays that everyday paper uses pulp fibers that are microns long, whereas the material used in the biodegradable chip has nanoscale fibers. The material is so thing that it's practically transparent and strong, at the same time.

According to Ma, "the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer." Environmental benefits aside, there are reasons why we haven't seen more paper products in computer hardware. There were two main barriers to integrating paper materials into computer chips: thermal expansion and surface smoothness. A simple epoxy coating was able to overcome both of those roadblocks.

The CNF material is cheaper than materials generally used in chip substrates, and team's biodegradable chip performance is supposed to be on par with existing chips. Despite the low material cost, the researchers don't expect their method to be picked up by conventional manufacturers anytime soon. They realize that existing mass-production techniques for semiconductor chips are already inexpensive, so there is not much of an economic incentive for manufacturers to adopt their technique, even if it is more environmentally friendly.

Source: Science Daily