Researchers create a working wooden processor for future PCs

Posted May 28, 2015 by James Walker
U.S. and Chinese researchers have successfully created a processor made nearly entirely of a material derived from wood. Biodegradable, cheap and fully functional, our phones and computers of the future may be powered by the most basic of materials.
Patterns of narrow and wide tree rings correspond to dry and wet years.
Patterns of narrow and wide tree rings correspond to dry and wet years.
Daniel Griffin
Today's processors are usually made of wafer-thin sheets of silicon. The silicon has to be purified, melted and cooled into ingots before being sliced up with intricate precision, a complex procedure that requires a spotless production environment.
Now, a team of 17 researchers from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the US Department of Agriculture have built a semiconductor chip built of cellulose nanofibril, derived from wood. Network World reports how the cellulose is coated with a layer of epoxy to ensure the surface is smooth and to prevent the wood from expanding when heated in operation.
The team's report is published in the Nature Communications journal. Only the very thin "active" layer of the chip would continue to use conventional semiconductor materials while the main base substrate would be built of wood.
This approach would dramatically reduce the risk of harm to the environment when disposing of a device using a cellulose processor. While silicon CPUs can release toxic chemicals into the environment, cellulose nanofibril would simply biodegrade when mixed with fungi and water, according to Neowin.
An additional advantage is the dramatically reduced cost of the resulting processors. Silicon is hard to refine and process into the wafer-thin layers required for CPUs, giving cellulose a clear advantage. In an email to Network World, team leader Zhenqiang Ma said “If commercializing the wooden chips, tremendous material cost will be saved. We actually reduced the use of semiconductor material by 99.9 percent.”
It remains to be seen whether the future of computers actually lies with one of the earliest materials ever used by humans. The team write in their report that the chip features "high-performance electronics comparable to existing state-of-the-art electronics" and that it is "feasible to fabricate high-performance flexible electronics using eco-friendly materials."