Think Globally, Act Globally

Fabs consume huge amount of electricity – does the industry have a responsibility to act sustainably?

popularity

For the last several months, I’ve been working on a series of articles about sustainable manufacturing in the semiconductor industry. How can we, as an industry, reduce our environmental footprint? It’s a big topic, and it’s been challenging to find concrete examples of ways fabs can reduce power consumption, water consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll address these topics in more detail over the next several weeks.

The most important thing I’ve learned, though, is really more philosophical than technical. The integrated circuit industry inherently consumes a lot of power. Yes, fabs can be more efficient, and I’ll be writing about ways to do that. But IC manufacturing will always require highly refined silicon, high power lasers, and extremely clean manufacturing environments, collectively adding up to a lot of energy. Even if the amount of energy consumed per square inch of silicon goes down, the sheer size of the industry guarantees a high total. Where does it come from? And where does the industry’s obligation to be a responsible corporate citizen end?

sustainability_llnl

(Source: Lawrence Livermore National Labratory and the Department of Energy)

Energy is the single largest input for any fab. In the US, electricity generation is the single largest source of carbon emissions. So, to what extent should fabs consider the availability of clean power in fab construction and location decisions? Is it enough to install solar panels on the roof and over the facility’s parking lot? What about the use of clean generation by local utilities, and the attitude of local governments to clean energy sources? In a global industry with a global supply chain, are local efforts enough?

Most of the topics I cover are inherently confined to the fab. The residents of the local community don’t need to care about the difference between SOI and bulk silicon wafers. Sustainability is different. Inevitably, fabs have to work with economic and environmental stakeholders beyond our control. I hope you’ll join me as I consider how those collaborations can work.

Related Stories
Running Out Of Energy?
A new report documents what happens if computing continues at its current rate of consumption.