Although there are companies throughout the country that accept old phones for parts or safe destruction, unfortunately many of these old phones end up in landfills. According to the latest statistics, every day in the United States alone, 428,000 phones and 112,000 computers are discarded. This equates to more than three tons of electronics being wasted every year.
The bigger problem is that most portable electronic devices to include cell phones, iPads, tablets, iPods, and computers, among other things, are made with materials like gallium arsenide and others that are extremely toxic. This means once in a landfill, toxic chemicals are absorbed into the Earth.
To combat the problem, recycling is being pushed hard by numerous agencies. However, there is another viable solution being proposed. Nature Communication wants semiconductor chips to be made from wood chips. More formally known as Cellulose Nanovibril or CNF, these chips contain polymer used to create wood.
This practice has actually been around for more than 30 years but only now being considered for electronic devices. The way it works is that once CNF is extracted, it can be transformed into a flexible nanopaper that over time dissolves without having any negative impact on the environment whatsoever.
Often, trees are scaled down to microfibers used for making paper but by taking the scale to a nano level, CNF could be made into an extremely strong and transparent type of paper. According to Zhiyong Cai, project leader of the study conducted by the University of Wisconsin, CNF is a pseudo-plastic fluid that when subjected to high temperature turns into a gel-like substance but when disturbed or shaken, it hardens.
Many people are unaware that today, CNF is used in a wide range of food products to include Sargento cheeses and barbecue sauces but also found in other foods like potatoes, pears, bananas, carrots, and so no. CNF is also a substance used in the development of sunscreen, food packaging, and paint.
By using CNF to make semiconductor chips would make portable electronics biodegradable. However, this ingredient would also make electronics like phones, wearables, and other similar products far more flexible. Of course, there is also the huge advantage on the planet by eliminating toxins in landfills.
To deal with the problem of CNF being at risk for expansion and shrinkage when in contact with certain elements, the team at the University added an epoxy coating, which is solvent, water, and acid resistant. The idea of making semiconductor chips from wood has grown so big, both the North Carolina State University and Aalto University have devised a durable CNF gel like film for porous plates that are highly resistant to water.
In fact, these plates can be used for a variety of medical tests performed at home. For instance, based on design, a plate could be designed to change color to indicate a specific type of infection, illness, or disease. Due to the findings of this study, the way is open for Google’s Project Ara to start making modular smartphones whereby consumers can swap out old parts for new ones made from CNF.