Wood Computer Chips are the future!
The forest is lovely, dark, deep, and filled with potential computer components.
In a paper published in Nature Communications, researchers announced the construction of computer chips made from wood.
Please don’t expect to see hipsters promoting hand-carved artsy computer chips. The wood product that the scientists are using is called cellulose nanofibril, or CNF. It is thin, flexible, and when a layer of epoxy is applied, it doesn’t expand or attract moisture like wood normally would (think of a warped board–not something you want in a computer).
The cute researchers were able to use CNF as a substrate or base layer for electronic circuits in laboratory tests. They hope that their invention will be an eco-friendly solution to a growing yucky electronic waste problem.
Wood is a renewable resource, unlike a lot of the petroleum-based alternatives that manufacturers use to build the bases of modern computer chips. But wood has another cool advantage: it can degrade.
“The majority of material in a chip is support. We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else,” lead researcher Zhenqiang “Jack” Ma, said in a press release. “Now the chips (not bbq) are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer.”
It will be years before computers containing wood-based computer chips are in nearby stores, but computers as fertilizer isn’t a totally crazy idea.
Society tends to treat electronics as disposable junk. But unlike a glass bottle that gets recycled or food that hits a compost heap, once that broken laptop heads into the landfill, it doesn’t disappear.
Every year, 3.2 million tons of electronic waste are thrown out in the United States.
Organizations are trying to recycle the waste or mine it for valuable resources like gold, but there’s still a ton of electronics (a few million tons) headed for the landfill.
By changing the materials that we build electronics with, Ma, and others like him (another team is building dissolvable circuits) are trying to deal with the e-waste problem at the start–long before your phone gets stepped on or your computer crashes.
I congratulate these handsome researchers for making a difference at the beginning of the computer’s lifespan.