Intel will stop using lead in its upcoming microprocessors, eliminating one of the most toxic components used in semiconductors from its product line.

Starting with the Penryn line of processors made using a 45-nanometre process, Intel microprocessors will go lead-free from later this year, the company said Tuesday. Chips made using a 65-nanometre process will follow next year.

Intel has been working to eliminate lead from its chips for several years, and development efforts have been costly. In 2005, an Intel executive revealed the company had spent $100 million to develop an alternative material to replace lead in solder used to package chips. The goal at that time was to be lead-free by 2010.

While Intel appears to have beaten that projection, the company did not reveal the total cost of eliminating lead from its processors. Lead is a toxic metal but has a combination of electrical and mechanical properties that make it useful for semiconductor manufacturing, the company said.

Intel first began removing lead from its products in 2002, when it started shipping flash memory that used lead-free solder made from tin, silver and copper. By 2004, the company managed to replace most of the lead solder used in its chipsets and processors with the tin-silver-copper solder. However, the company continued to use 0.02 grammes of lead in the solder used inside these chips, connecting the silicon die to the chip package.

With Tuesday's announcement, Intel plans to replace this tin-lead solder with solder that uses the tin-silver-copper alloy. The shift in solder materials will not affect the performance of the chips, Intel said.