Science & Technology

The computer chip industry has the secret of a dirty climate | Environment

NSThere is a problem in the semiconductor industry. Demand for silicon chips embedded in everything from smartphones and TVs to wind turbines is skyrocketing, but at great cost. In other words, carbon dioxide emissions are enormous.

The industry presents a paradox. Achieving global climate goals depends in part on semiconductors. These are essential for electric vehicles, solar arrays and wind turbines. However, chip manufacturing also contributes to the climate crisis. It requires a lot of energy and water. Chip manufacturing plants or fabs can use millions of gallons of water per day and produce hazardous waste.

As the semiconductor industry becomes more and more in the limelight, it is beginning to address its impact on climate. Last week, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, the world’s largest chip maker supplying Apple with chips, announced Net zero emissions by 2050.. TSMC Chairman Mark Louis said the company aims to “expand its green influence and drive the industry towards low-carbon sustainability.”

However, decarbonization of the industry will be a major challenge.

According to Greenpeace statistics, TSMC alone is projected to use nearly 5% of Taiwan’s total electricity. rise It will be 7.2% in 2022, 63 million tons The company’s water usage has become a controversial topic during this year’s drought in Taiwan. This was the worst Taiwan in half a century. Dropped a chip maker for farmers..

In the United States, Intel’s 700-acre campus in Ocotillo, Arizona is one fab. production In the first three months of this year, we have about 15,000 tonnes of waste, about 60% of which is dangerous. It also consumed 927m gallons of freshwater, enough to fill about 1,400 Olympic pools, and used 561m kilowatt-hours of energy.

Chip manufacturing, rather than energy consumption or hardware use, “makes up the majority of carbon emissions” from electronics, co-authored with Harvard researcher Udit Gupta I have written In the 2020 treatise.

Inside the TSMC chip manufacturing plant. Photo: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company

Global shortage of high-end chips as pandemics boost demand for electronics and the emergence of Covid Closed fab, The industry is getting more attention.

In a tight market, automakers are behind chip cues, far behind larger semiconductor customers such as Apple, who use chips to power their smartphones, laptops, and other devices with computing power. I was taking. GM Production stop This month, Toyota announced that it would cut back on car manufacturing at several plants in North America. 40% in September..

To increase production, many countries have embarked on major programs to boost the industry.

The Chips for America Act is proposing $ 52 billion in funding to the US semiconductor industry over a five-year period. The EU has forwarded its own legislation aimed at increasing its share of the global chip market to 20% by 2030. Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, called it “Technology sovereignty issuesIn her European Union state speech last week.

These ambitions create potential conflicts with international climate goals. Both the EU and the United States aim to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to zero by 2030. Net zero by 2050.. Also, as the semiconductor industry grows, so does carbon dioxide emissions.

President Biden holds semiconductor chips before signing an executive order aimed at addressing the global semiconductor chip shortage in February.
President Biden holds semiconductor chips before signing an executive order aimed at addressing the global semiconductor chip shortage in February. Photo: Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

However, under pressure from investors and electronics manufacturers who are eager to report a more environmentally friendly supply chain to their customers, the semiconductor business is stepping up its actions to address its climate footprint.

Sohini Dasgupta, Chief Design Engineer at ON Semiconductors, said:

Two years ago, she said the industry was sitting on the fence in the middle of the pack, saying, “Yes, sustainability is important, but I don’t know what to do with it.” But now she is watching the movement. “Every day, our email shows what our company is doing and what other companies are doing,” she said.

The rise of ethical investment has helped, according to Mark Lee, a semiconductor analyst at investment firm Bernstein. Fund managers are increasingly pitching “green funds” and investors are asking more questions about their impact on a company’s environment, society and governance (ESG). “Over the last three years, ESG investment has been much louder than it used to be,” Li said. Ultimately, he added, this would change the behavior of the enterprise.

Increased availability of renewable energy will allow chip makers to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Intel, like TSMC, has promised to source 100% of its energy from renewable sources by 2030, with a deadline of 2050.

Energy consumption accounts for 62% of TSMC’s emissions, said Nina Kao, a spokeswoman for the company. Last year, the company signed a 20-year contract with the Danish energy company Ørsted to purchase all the energy from the 920 MW offshore wind farm under construction by Ørsted. Taiwan Strait.

Renewable energy analyst at Wood Mackenzie, an energy consultancy, Shashivara said the deal, which is said to be the world’s largest corporate renewable energy purchase deal, benefits TSMC. Not only does it guarantee a clean power supply, but it also pays wholesale costs, protects itself from price shocks, and “kills two birds with one stone,” he said.

TSMC’s actions could impact other parts of the industry, said Clifton von Stud, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at MIT, “other manufacturers are likely to follow that lead.” Stated.

Chip makers can not only switch to renewable energy, but also implement efficiency in their fabs, said Peter Hanbury, a semiconductor manufacturing expert at management consultancy Bain & Company. Chipfabs are basically “a huge warehouse with a clean room inside” and “the easy part is the facility itself” to reduce emissions, he said.

Fabs can be more efficient in regulating air and water temperature, humidity, and pressure. You can split the warehouse to increase the pressure on one production line and decrease the pressure on another production line, using less energy than keeping the entire warehouse at high pressure.

Huili Grace Xing, a professor of engineering at Cornell University working on semiconductor materials, says he can collect more data and use machine learning to turn off tools when not in use. ..

There are also innovations aimed at tackling The worst pollutants used in the manufacture of semiconductors.The tip industry uses a variety of gases during the manufacturing process, many of which Significant climate impact..

TSMC said it had introduced scrubbers and other facilities to handle outgassing. But another route is to replace the “dirty” cleaning gas that cleans the delicate tools of semiconductor manufacturing, said Michael Pitrov, a chemical engineer working on semiconductor gas at Solvay Special Chemicals.

According to Pitrov, he and his team have been in an industrial test of about half a dozen chipmaker clients over the past six years. Replaced Increased pollution by “cleaner” fluorine, which has less impact on global warming.

Other companies are targeting the gas used to etch and clean patterns on the silicon surface of wafers, the thin materials used to make semiconductors. For example, Air Liquide, an industrial gas company based in Paris, Alternative etching gas line It has little impact on global warming.

However, changing the gas will be difficult. Everything that comes into contact with a silicon wafer, such as etching gas, is very difficult to change once the fab is up and running, Hanbury said. This process involves a very high degree of accuracy. The fab needs to place transistors up to 100m on a stamp-sized wafer, which must be done completely. It took Fabs four to five years to develop this recipe, and “once set, we basically don’t want to change it,” Humberly said.

Some experts believe that chip makers will begin to change processes to incorporate more environmentally friendly gases, especially if large companies take action. “I’m confident that if TSMC switches, so will others,” said Vonstad. “If TSMC isn’t, other manufacturers may switch to show that it’s better than TSMC.”

For some observers in the tip business, the determination to clean up the industry seems real. The huge demand for chips at this point only helps the semiconductor industry to embrace sustainability goals, Lee said.

“They have very good margins and make a lot of money. Therefore, all these green carbon measures are costly but affordable. And more and more, customers are more environmentally friendly. I’m willing to pay more for friendly devices, “he said.

The computer chip industry has the secret of a dirty climate | Environment

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/sep/18/semiconductor-silicon-chips-carbon-footprint-climate The computer chip industry has the secret of a dirty climate | Environment

Back to top button