While we all love our smartphones, there’s no doubt that they create a lot of e-waste that results in harmful chemicals getting dumped into the environment. ScienceDaily brings us word that some researchers are working on a way to solve this problem by developing wood-based semiconductor chips that will actually biodegrade naturally if they’re left in the wilderness.

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A team of researchers led by UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor Zhenqiang Ma has published new research showing that it’s possible to replace a semiconductor’s support layer with cellulose nanofibril, a wood-based material that’s known for its flexibility.

“The majority of material in a chip is support,” Ma explains. “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.”

Researcher Zhiyong Cai explains to ScienceDaily that the team used an epoxy coating on the cellulose nanofibril to both make its surface smoother and to eliminate moisture within the material that could make it expand.

The group doesn’t believe its designs will immediately catch on, especially since manufacturers have already gotten producing cheap semiconductors down to a science. All the same, they think their chip designs offer more flexibility than current chips, which will make them more attractive to manufacturers designing tiny wearable computers.

Read more about their research by clicking here.

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