As we celebrate the advance of technology in all its forms – from tablets, smartphones and wearables to television sets, desktops and laptops – the electronic waste these beloved devices produce, not to mention the hazardous chemicals they leak into the environment, is also on the rise. Fortunately, scientists from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Products Laboratory have joined forces to address this issue directly by inventing a new, biodegradable computer chip that when placed in nature is dissolved by fungus.
Biodegradable computer chips are the future
Most computer chips rest inside a support layer that is made out of non-biodegradable material. Given that computer chips exist inside most electronic devices, the accumulated waste over time is staggering. To circumvent this wasteful component, scientists from the aforementioned institutions replaced this support layer with a flexible, wood-based, biodegradable material called cellulose nanofibril (CNF).
The majority of material in a computer chip is support. We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else. Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer. PROFESSOR ZHENQIANG MA, TEAM LEAD
Currently, most electronic devices use gallium arsenide-based microwave chips. Although they offer superior high-frequency operation and power handling capabilities, they are environmentally toxic. Yei Hwan Jung, co-author of the paper detailing the new CNF based computer chip and a graduate student in electrical and computer engineering says, “I’ve made 1,500 gallium arsenide transistors in a 5-by-6 millimeter chip. Typically for a microwave chip that size, there are only eight to 40 transistors. The rest of the area is just wasted.” He goes on to explain that “We take our design and put it on CNF using deterministic assembly technique, then we can put it wherever we want and make a completely functional circuit with performance comparable to existing computer chips.”
Team lead Zhenqiang Ma also emphasizes the flexibility of this new material and computer chip, stating, “flexible electronics are the future, and we think we’re going to be well ahead of the curve.”
This is good news, as the use of electronic devices and computer chips are only going to increase, and the need for more sustainable computer chips and components are all the more tantamount.