New ground is being broken in Portugal by two scientists at the New University of Lisbon. As the digital world gradually takes over paper in our day to day lives, Elvira Fortunato and Rodrigo Martins have proven that you can in fact teach an old dog new tricks by developing microchips that have replaced the traditionally-used silicon material with paper.

Electrical engineers have successfully embedded electronics within paper in the past, but this invention is the first to utilise paper as a functional part of the transistor. To achieve this, Fortunato and Martins coated the parts of the paper transistor with inorganic oxides, zinc, gallium and indium, which gave it the insulating properties usually provided by silicon or other inorganic materials.

While this new paper transistor may not replace silicon-based microchips altogether, it does offer a number of benefits over its predecessor.

First of all, the use of paper-based transistors could have a great environmental impact. The production of silicon for the use within microchips is a wasteful process as up to 80% of the material is lost during purification. The process also uses greenhouse gases such as sulphur hexafluoride which produce great amounts of carbon dioxide. Using paper offers a much more environmentally friendly way of producing microchips. Plus, they are completely recyclable.

The materials required for paper transistors can be processed at room temperature as opposed to the hundreds of degrees of heat required to process silicon, meaning much less energy is used in production. Not only is this good for the environment, but it can also help to save a lot of money in the process. This creation will also give a financial boost to the European cellulose market as well as other sectors such as the global transistor market and the electronic smart packaging market, which can make great use of the paper-based transistor.

For her work on inorganic oxides in electronics, Elvira Fortunato a grant of €2.5 million from the European Research Council. This is the largest grant ever awarded to a Portuguese scientist.

So, it seems like paper has sparked a revolution once again. The paper-based microchip holds many potential uses in industry as well as offering financial and environmental benefits along with it.

Source: European Patent Office