Wood-based computer chips could be the answer to the electronic waste crisis


Wood-based computer chips are a reality, and they could make the recycling of electronics a much simpler task.

Developed at the University of Wisconsin by a group led by engineering professor Zhenqiang (Jack) Ma, the wood-derived computer chip is made by processing wood into nanocellulose paper, which is then used as a substitute for a silicon. Unlike the rigid silicon wafer that serves as a plate for transistors in most computer chips, Ma’s chip uses a translucent, bendable plate made of highly processed wood. According to a piece in the MIT Technology Review, using nanocellulose in lieu of conventional silicon requires just a tiny fraction of the semiconducting material otherwise needed in the process, and doesn’t sacrifice performance:

In two recent demonstrations, Ma and his colleagues showed they can use nanocellulose as the support layer for radio frequency circuits that perform comparably to those commonly used in smartphones and tablets. They also showed that these chips can be broken down by a common fungus.

The military, the MIT publication notes, has had an interest in electronics that could rapidly decay to avoid leaking sensitive information; but Ma’s ambition for biodegradable chips is mainly to help combat electronic waste.

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