Research on Electronic Components Made from Wood Continues to Advance

The Forest Products Laboratory and the University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) have a history of collaboration aimed at making electronic components from wood. From flexible electronic screens to computer chips, this partnership has produced fascinating results. Learn more about the latest development in the following article from the UW.

Critical communications component made on a flexible wooden film

By Jason Daley

In the not-too-distant future, flexible electronics will open the door to new products like foldable phones, tablets that can be rolled, paper-thin displays and wearable sensors that monitor health data. Developing these new bendy products, however, means using materials like new plastics and thin films to replace the rigid circuit boards and bulky electronic components that currently occupy the interiors of cell phones and other gadgets.

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Cell Phones Made with Wood? New video let's you see it, believe it!

According to a Scientific American article, Americans dispose of approximately 130 million cell phones each year.  Consumers upgrade their cellphones every 18 months, on average, and the waste created by these discarded phones produces heaps of environmentally toxic material.

A cellulose nanofibril computer chip rests on a leaf. Photo: Yei Hwan Jung, Wisconsin Nano Engineering Device Laboratory

A cellulose nanofibril computer chip rests on a leaf. Photo: Yei Hwan Jung, Wisconsin Nano Engineering Device Laboratory

Researchers at the Forest Products Laboratory (FPL) recently collaborated with University of Wisconsin-Madison (UW) engineers to develop an innovative device in hopes of decreasing the toxic waste created by mobile phones.  A video recently produced by the UW explains how scientists worked to replace the support layer of a cell phone’s computer chip with cellulose nanofibrils (CNF), a completely biodegradable material made from wood.

Dr. Zhiyong Cai, a research materials engineer at FPL, co-authored the study, and says his team was able to compress the nanocellulose, or wood fibers, into a thin film, resulting in a resilient, sturdy, safer material.

“My dream is one day people will pull out a cellphone, maybe 20 percent of the materials are made out of wood,” Cai said. “That’s going to be awesome. That’s my dream.”

The majority of wireless devices contain gallium arsenide microwave chips and other substances that are highly toxic to the environment.  According to Cai, the electronic industry is looking for greener, more sustainable alternatives to these chemicals.  He and his research team hope the newly developed CNF chip can help.

Scientists say the newly developed film can perform as well as the original chips. See the promise of this innovation for yourself in the video below.

Blog post by Francesca Yracheta