Scientists use green technology to develop new biodegradable computer chips

June 3, 2015 0 By Angie Bergenson

A semiconductor chip made mostly from wood may help make electric devices greener.

A new type of green technology has been developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison by scientists who have created a wood-based biodegradable computer chip that may help to reduce the amount of e-waste that is created by the growing number of discard portable electronic devices, which are currently primarily made from materials that are non-biodegradable, non-renewable, and potentially toxic.

Computer chips could be as safe for the environment as fertilizer.

According to Science Daily, the team of researchers from UW-Madison collaborated with researchers in the Madison-based U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Product Laboratory (FPL) to develop the mostly wood semiconductor chip. The new chip that was created has been described in a recent paper published by the journal “Nature Communications”. In the paper, the scientists explained the possibility of replacing a computer chips substrate (support layer), with a flexible and biodegradable wood-based material known as cellulose nanofibril (CNF).

University of Wisconsin-Madison - Green Technology ResearchZhenqiang “Jack” Ma, a lead researcher, and an electrical and cobmputer engineering professor at UW-Madison, explained that support makes up most of the material in a chip and that “We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else.” Ma added that the chips are now “so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer.”

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The new bio-based green technology could reduce the use of current expensive and potentially toxic material.

Most of today’s wireless devices rely on gallium arsenide-based microwave chips because these chips offer better power handling capabilities and high-frequency operation. That said, this material can be toxic to the environment, especially with the substantial amount of wireless gadgets that are being thrown away.

According to Yei Hwan Jung, a co-author of the paper and an electrical and computer engineering graduate student, the new process significantly lowers the use of these materials which are more costly and could be harmful to the environment.

However, he noted that mass-producing present semiconductor chips is very cheap, so it may take some time before the industry is interested in adapting to the scientists green technology discovery. That said, he added that “flexible electronics are the future, and we think we’re going to be well ahead of the curve.”