Last Updated on October 22, 2023 by Kevin Chen
Image source Freepik
There is a major crisis that has emboldened the chip industry. Currently, the demand for the silicon chips has exceeded the supply. The fact that IC chips are used in running almost every electronic device means that manufacturers have to keep up with the demand by manufacturing them in large quantities. While all this is done, the biggest cost is borne by the environment.
A major challenge that the IC chip industry is facing is the ability to meet the current demand for the chips while at the same time stick to the global climate goals.
While reducing the carbon footprint is a major climatic goal, there is also the need to shift towards the energy-saving methods of producing the semiconductor chips.
Let’s not forget the waste disposal aspect of IC chip production.A significant volume of waste is generated during the production of the semiconductor chips. How are the manufacturers disposing it and is the disposal in line with the environment?
In this guide, we are going to discuss everything that entail the environmental impact of semiconductor chip manufacturing.
We will cover how the process is a hazard to the environment and the efforts that are taken to minimize the impact.
How chip manufacturing is detrimental to the environment
Let’s look at various ways in which IC chip manufacturing is causing environmental degradation and is detrimental to the sustainability efforts.
High energy consumption
Chip manufacturing is an energy-intensive process. The power and equipment used consume high amounts of energy. Also, the fact that heat is required during the manufacturing process further compounds on the energy consumption by these companies.
The energy figures from Taiwan alone should send a strong message on how the industry uses energy. From the data, it is believed that the world’s largest chip maker TSMC alone consumes up to 5% of the Taiwan’s electricity. It is believed that these figures keep rising given that the company’s manufacturing capacity is bound to rise so s to meet the current shortage of the chips.
Keep in mind that the figures are from one company alone. Now imagine ten such companies in a country. The energy consumption rate will definitely go over the roof.
Generation and disposal of waste
IC chip manufacturing companies tend to generate a significant amount of waste. Some of the waste is hazardous and can have severe impact to the environment. Even the non-hazardous waste still remain unwanted to the ecosystem.
The waste can be in the form of solid waste, liquid chemicals or even gases. Lack of proper disposal techniques of these waste is the main problem facing the IC chip industry.
A perfect example of the waste generation capacity of the IC companies is Intel. It is believed that the factory produced up to 15,000 tons of solid waste just within the tree months of 2021. And to make things worse, 60% of the waste was toxic to the ecosystem.
Hazardous chemicals and gases such as ammonia gas, and sulfuric acid have instant impact on the environment. Some of these waste are not disposed well and end up being health risk to human beings, animals and plants.
Another way of analyzing this is the electronic waste created by the devices that use the chips.
Water is as essential component that is required during the IC chip manufacturing. It is used for various purposes such as cleaning the materials such as wafer and for cooling the machines used in the manufacturing process.
Chip manufacturing is a major threat to water as a natural resource.
Other than the large volume of water used during the manufacturing process, there is also some level of pollution that is caused on the water.
Chemicals used in the chip manufacturing are usually released to the nearby water resources.
A section of farmers pointed their fingers to the Taiwan Semi Conductor Manufacturing Company for the recent draught that beleaguered the country. The company was blamed for its high water consumption that deprived farmers of this essential natural resource.
Other chip manufacturing companies have faced the same complaints. For example, it is believed that Intel’s single fab company in Arizona used up to 927m gallons of fresh water. To give you a better perspective, this amount is enough to fill up to 1400 swimming pools.
The global chip shortage is making things worse. The above scenarios that we have discussed assume that the production of semiconductor chips is during the ordinary circumstance.
With the global chip shortage, manufacturers will have to up their game. They are forced to produce more chips to meet the high demand. This is done at the expense of the environmental sustainability efforts.
Are chip manufacturers doing anything to save the situation?
Image source Freepik
The pressure that is facing IC chip manufacturers is immense. From the look of things, semiconductor chips seem to be making some efforts to commit towards reducing the carbon footprint.
Just recently, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest chip manufacturer pledged to achieve the net Zero emission by 2050. And that is not all, the company further promised to make efforts towards the low-carbon sustainability.
As we wait to see if and how the company intends to achieved the goals, we can also look at other measures that chip manufacturers are taking towards achieving sustainability. Some of these measures include the following.
In the recent years, there has been spirited efforts to encourage ethical investing. Under this, investors tend to pressurize chip makers to adhere to the sustainability efforts.
Ethical investing encourages ‘green funding’ whereby more funds is channeled towards the environment-friendly chip manufacturers.
This mode of investment also encourages companies to outline their sustainability efforts.
Adoption of green energy
As we have already discussed, energy is one of areas that has been largely affected by the IC chip manufacturing and disposal.
One thing that chip manufacturers are doing is adopting to the renewable energy sources. This is done with hopes of not only to conserve energy but also reduce the carbon footprint.
Some companies have already invested on alternative energy sources such as wind power and solar energy.
Intel has made committed that by 2030, it will source 100% of its energy from renewable sources.
TSMC has also made similar commitment only that it has given itself a deadline of the year 2050. The company has already started making such efforts as it has partnered with a Danish wind energy company to be get all the 920-megawatt power. This deal is viewed to be the largest corporate renewable energy purchase. Many other companies are expected to take similar move.
Adoption of clean manufacturing
This is another move that IC chip manufacturers are taking to save the environment from the negative effects of semiconductor manufacturing.
One of the clean processes entails using alternative materials to the toxic chemicals. This means that there will be minimal generation of chemical waste during the chip production.
Efficient waste management techniques
As we have discussed, waste is another major issue that is highly affecting the chip manufacturing industry. Companies in this industry have taken necessary measures to mitigate the impact of waste on the ecosystem.
Some waste materials are recycled while others are reused. With these two methods, it means that there will be minimal damage to the environment.
Thanks to modern technology, there are safer and efficient ways to dispose those waste that can neither be recycled nor reused.
By minimizing the level of toxic materials in the integrated circuits, manufacturers are making it safer for these chips to be disposed. The waste will be of minimal health risk.
Inclusion of the environmental division
IC companies are showing their commitment towards sustainability by including special environmental bodies within the companies. These management systems are responsible of ensuring that every move that the company makes is in line with the environmental conservation goal.
The environmental management bodies also assist in setting the sustainability goals of the organizations and make corrections where necessary.
Global regulations and standards
IC chip manufacturers are required to meet specific rules and regulations when it comes to sustainability.
These regulations are set by governments and other concerned bodies and they stipulate the limits that manufacturers should not exceed when it comes to emissions.
There are always fines or penalties associated with the violation of each regulation. When properly followed, such regulations promote sustainability in the long run.
What is the future of environmental sustainability in relation to the IC chip manufacturing?
From the look of things, all the pointers are leading towards sustainability of the IC chip manufacturing. We expect to see manufacturers putting more efforts towards saving the ecosystem from all kinds of IC-related pollution.
However, the journey to achieving this goal wont be there will be many challenges coming from different players in the chip manufacturing industry. Or example, some manufacturers may fail to comply with some standard.
But with proper consultations and understanding, we hope that companies will meet all the environmental sustainability goals.
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