Developmental changes are the cornerstone of human survival and sustenance. But for all our day-to-day tasks and requirement we are directly (or indirectly) dependent on natural resources! We use what nature has provided us and process those resources to get something that makes our life possible and easy as well.

But the biggest challenge lies in ensuring the resources that nature has bestowed on us, don’t get depleted – not only in quantity but also in the quality perspective.

We have inherited the planet from our ancestors but must also keep in mind that we have also borrowed it from the progeny. If the resources are depleted then we can never imagine the existence of humankind afterwards.

For this, comes the concept of sustainability! In very simple terms it can be defined as:

“Meeting our own needs without compromising the ability of the next generation to meet their needs”!

To follow sustainable development practices means to fabricate and maintain the conditions in which both humans and nature can simultaneously exist in fruitful harmony to support our and the next generation also.

As an engineer, or we can say the professionals developing technologies, the responsibilities in this regard increase greatly. Technology is improved to make the world a better place, and for this, we need to think about intrinsic values at the societal level.

While talking about the technology for development, the role of semiconductors is the most pivotal. The post-pandemic era is much more demanding towards automation and digital infrastructure, and the semiconductor industry is witnessing a sharp uprise of 26% YoY with more than $600B in revenue!

The semiconductor industry adversely affects the environment. The production gulps a great amount of water which then all is disposed of as waste. A large amount of energy is required to make the chips and many toxic chemicals are involved which harm the environment. Most of the waste is toxic in nature.

If all this is controlled then we can contribute to the amelioration of the environment and help the government meet the ambitious emission reduction targets.

InSemi, being a socially responsible organization, not only designs the chip for lesser waste and easy production but also researches and shares views on how negative environmental impact can be reduced by fabricating firms.     

So let’s have a look at the important aspects!

Measuring progress towards environmental goals

For the heightened consciousness, momentum is gathering around at the global level regarding sustainable designs and manufacturing processes. Just like their finances, organizations must record the details of performance for the key areas regarding environmental, social, and authoritarian regulations.

As per a Harvard Business Review Report, “Businesses meeting sustainability targets are always at a competitive advantage and the semiconductor industry is no exception.

It was in the year 2021, when for the first time more than global organizations committed to disclosing the universal ESG matrices, and now more and more businesses are following the suit.

Optimized Material Sourcing

Shortening the supply chain and strengthening resilience was always a point of concern but the pandemic poured extra emphasis on it. It is not just about easier operations but also an important step in the direction of reducing carbon footprints.

In the case of IC fabrication, the concept can be explained as developing more foundries in proximity to a silicon production facility.

The material suppliers must be made conscious of the sustainability efforts and included in the chain. They must be chosen on the basis of their performance in environmental concerns. Also, the questionable material and the minerals in the products must be assessed with stronger scrutiny. Anything which fails to meet the standards must be eliminated from the supply.

Lesser Waste Production

These days special technologies are being deployed to minimize the waste in the fabrication processes.

Other efforts are classified into two main categories-

  1. Community Level Initiatives: These include awareness campaigns and maximizing the recycling processes within the production units.
  2. Larger Level Initiatives: These include setting an ambitious waste reduction target through the strategies of the circular economy. Reducing the usage of test wafers and brainstorming ways to reuse the spare parts, and extracting consumable elements from waste also come under this category.

Controlled Water Usage

Water management is big trouble for all the IC production units. Organizations establishing new plants need to center their attention on their independence for the priceless resource. Categorizing the quality, raising it to the ultrapure level, and then prioritizing the usage is the need of the hour.

Equipment suppliers reducing water usage in their designs can be incentivized to promote the culture.

Green Power Capabilities

Low-voltages and sometimes even blackouts are the high-stress period for the manufacturing units and to counter them generally, gasoline-powered generators are deployed. Rectifying the power backup is an opportunity to reduce carbon footprints.

In December 2021, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company signed a pact with a German energy provider wpd AG, for purchasing 1.2 GW of wind energy. This was Asia’s largest renewable energy purchase and was in response to the frequent outages.

This shining example will make other organizations follow the trend, and assemblers can incentivize the manufacturers to use green energy backups for motivation.

Controlling Hazardous Chemicals

Myriads of chemicals are involved in chip fabrication and a striking majority are directly or indirectly hazardous. For the environmental concerns companies considering lesser toxic alternates will be prioritized for sure.

Researching the alternates and efficiently implementing them in large-scale production is a time-consuming process but can bring change gradually.

For example, fluorine gas in molecular form has been found to possess several competitive advantages like shorter cycle times, lower greenhouse emissions, and lesser power requirements.

Transitions from lead-based interconnect are also a promise in this direction.

Winding Up

For the governments aiming ambitiously to reduce emissions and strengthen the environment with sustainable practices, the semiconductor industry will be at the core to adapt ‘greener’ practices.

But the pressing need is to brainstorm and innovate solutions that can considerably counter the environmental challenges that chip fabrication is facing. Organizations pioneering environment-friendly solutions must be recognized and rewarded for their sustainable efforts, which can work as a motivation for others to follow the league.