High-performance biodegradable computer chips made of material similar to wood have been developed by US and Chinese researchers.

These chips feature "high-performance electronics that are comparable to existing state-of-the-art electronics" the scientists claim in a paper in peer reviewed science journal Nature Communications.

biodegradable chips
Bio-degradable chips are being researched in Tokyo and the US ©Yei Hwan Jung/Wisconsin Nano Engineering Device Laboratory

The chips, which are derived from wood, are a cheaper alternative to conventional semiconductors, the scientists from University of Wisconsin-Madison and the US Department of Agriculture claim.

"If we commercialise the wooden chips, tremendous material cost will be saved," Zhenqiang Ma, a UW-Madison electrical and computer engineering professor who led the team, said.

"We actually reduced the use of semiconductor material by 99.9 percent” he said in an email to an IDG journalist this week. However, the cost of the chips would depend on their applications, he added.

To create an active semiconductor layer for the chip, the researchers used a cellulose material - a substance traditionally used to make paper.

Extracting cellulose nanofibril from this, the scientists could create a transparent, flexible and strong material with electrical properties - perfect for a computer chip.

In current chips on the market, the support substrate is made of the same material as the active layer, but in the wood-based chip, only the active layer is semiconductor material.

To prevent the material from expanding as it heated during processing, scientists put a coat of epoxy on top. Methods to fabricate gallium arsenide-based microwave devices have been put in place to ensure the chips are smartphone and tablet compatible too.

Gallium arsenide is considered a dangerous chemical due to the presence of arsenic and is listed as a carcinogen in several territories. It is also expensive to remove it from discarded gadgets, so limiting its used in devices is important.

Despite this, this bio-degradable chip material is better than alternative chip designs using natural materials such as paper and silk the scientists claimed.