With a goal of making an environment-friendly electronic component, researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison successfully developed a computer chip made of wood.

Zhenqiang "Jack" Ma, research leader and a UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor, worked with his colleagues and replaced the substrate, or support layer, of a computer chip, with cellulose nanofibril (CNF), a flexible, biodegradable material made from wood.

"The majority of material in a chip is support. We only use less than a couple of micrometers for everything else," Ma said in a university news release. "Now the chips are so safe you can put them in the forest and fungus will degrade it. They become as safe as fertilizer."

As new models of electronic devices are released faster than the season changes, most consumers are compelled to throw away their old devices which are made of non-renewable, non-biodegradable and potentially toxic materials. This issue takes a toll on our environment and this issue is something that the team wants to address.

The idea began in 2009 by Zhiyong Cai, project leader for an engineering composite science research group at FPL, who has been working on prototypes since then. It wasn't a smooth path because they had to resolve the issue of surface smoothness and thermal expansion knowing that the woods tend to expand and shrink depending on the temperature. They were able to resolve it by coating the surface of the CNF with epoxy to smoothen it and protect it from moisture.

"You don't want it to expand or shrink too much. Wood is a natural hydroscopic material and could attract moisture from the air and expand," Cai said.

The creation of the wooden computer chip does not only provide an environment-friendly material, but also a cheaper way of manufacturing materials for the electronic devices.

The study was published in the May 26 issue of Nature Communications.