Driving Toward Net-Zero: Key Takeaways From Semiconductor Sustainability Summit

Renewable energy and alternative materials will be key in reducing chip industry carbon emissions.


To address the climate crisis, countries around the world are pursuing ambitious targets to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 under the Paris Agreement. In March, Taiwan redoubled its focus on decarbonization by announcing its net-zero pathway, while its Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) under the Executive Yuan is reshaping the Greenhouse Gas Reduction and Management Act into the comprehensive Climate Change Response Act.

“The Executive Yuan has approved the plan to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 10% in 2025, and might take it even further to 20% by 2030,” said Ling-Yi Tsai, Director General of the EPA’s Office of Climate Change, speaking at the Semiconductor Sustainability Summit at SEMICON Taiwan in September as the event focused on three themes: Green Innovation of Zero Waste, Carbon Reduction, and Sustainable Innovation in Semiconductor Manufacturing.

With its oversize carbon footprint, semiconductor manufacturing will play a key role in helping the world meet net-zero goals by mitigating its GHG emissions. In 2020, the semiconductor industry accounted for 41 million tons of CO2 emissions, said Kai Beckmann, CEO of the Electronics Business at Merck, speaking to an audience of 140 at the Summit. Fully 80% of that output were from Scope 1 (from business operations and manufacturing) and Scope 2 (from external sources that support businesses such as purchased electricity) emissions. Scope 3 are emissions from a business’ supply chain.

Advanced manufacturing: A double-edged sword for carbon reduction

Innovative technologies will be instrumental in achieving carbon neutrality. Speaking at the SEMICON West 2022 Sustainability Summit in July, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu pointed out that advanced manufacturing will significantly reduce not only the power consumption of chips, but emissions stemming from the entire wafer processing life cycle.

“Power consumption of a 5nm wafer is only 7% of that of a 28nm wafer, and the 3nm wafer will definitely go down this road in the future too,” Liu said. “The more advanced manufacturing becomes, the less carbon emissions a chip produces throughout its life cycle. That is why TSMC keeps innovating its manufacturing technology. We believe doing so will make a significant contribution to reducing global carbon emissions.”

However, the increasing energy efficiency of chips doesn’t necessarily translate to lower emissions from semiconductor manufacturing. In fact, because its wiring is much more complex, a 5nm wafer may emit more CO2, Lars-Åke Ragnarsson, Program Director Sustainable Semiconductor Technologies and Systems at imec, said at the Summit in Taiwan.

“As transistors shrink, their interior interconnections are growing in number, adding greater complexity to manufacturing processes such as deposition and etching that will boost GHG emissions,” he said. “Extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography technology will be key in minimizing emissions during semiconductor fabrication.”

Renewable and alternative materials for green manufacturing

Renewable energy and alternative materials will be key in reducing chip industry carbon emissions, and more material suppliers are taking steps to provide eco-friendly solutions. For instance, hydrogen energy, a key energy source as the semiconductor industry drives toward net-zero by 2050, is drawing growing interest for its easy storage and delivery across international borders. Japan and Australia are on the forefront of hydrogen energy, and Australia plans to transport liquid hydrogen to Japan in the coming years.

While hydrogen energy “may not be a solution to all the problems on the path to net-zero for semiconductors, it will play a huge part in the energy transition,” Olivier Letessier, President of Air Liquide Far Eastern, said at the SEMI Taiwan Semiconductor Sustainability Summit. The company’s parent, Air Liquide, is leader in gases, technologies and services for industry and health. “Air Liquide Far Eastern is committed to helping the industry improve energy efficiency and make better use of renewables. Other solutions, such as biomass gas are also available. More companies now offer hydrogen energy, and as the adoption rate goes up, the price will go down. Hydrogen will surely become a key energy source in the future.”

Solvay, a supplier of alternative materials, develops new solutions to reduce waste materials generated by semiconductor manufacturing. Floryan De Campo, Global Business Director of Electronic Chemicals and Technology Solutions at Solvay, pointed to two of the company’s products – Interox and Solvaclean – as examples of how it is helping customers recycle polyvinylidene fluoride (PVDF), a highly non-reactive thermoplastic fluoropolymer and a byproduct of chipmaking.

Speaking at the Summit, De Campo said chip manufacturers can reduce industrial waste by about 30% using the products. Interox is a hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) product, a chemical used to clean silicon wafers. A green oxidant that decomposes into water and oxygen, Interox poses no harm to the environment. Solvaclean is a cleaning gas formulated to replace three major cleaning gases – C2F6, CF4 and NF3 – with environmentally friendly fluorinated gas mixtures. Cleaning reaction chambers with Solvaclean makes the manufacturing process greener and significantly improves semiconductor sustainability.

Collaboration key to sustainability transformation

Collaboration across the semiconductor value chain will be essential to achieving carbon neutrality. Schneider Electric, a founding member of the Semiconductor Climate Consortium, has proposed a pathway – strategize, digitize, decarbonize – to sustainability, said Bess Ng, Associate Principal of the Sustainability Business at the company. The idea is for companies to improve their operational efficiency by using digital technology and to reduce energy consumption and emissions through electrification so they can remain competitive as the chip industry becomes more sustainable.

Ng said Schneider Electric launched a zero-carbon project last April. Outlining the company’s sustainability goals at the Summit, she said its goal is to work with 1,000 suppliers to halve GHG emissions by 2050. While more than 1,000 suppliers joined the effort as of July 2022, more than 70% of them have not yet quantified their emissions.

“Using digital tools to evaluate, track and make improvements will be the very first step in implementing corporate sustainability initiatives,” Ng said.

Representatives from Advanced Semiconductor Engineering, Dell Technologies, Micron Technology and TSMC also presented at the Semiconductor Sustainability Summit at SEMICON Taiwan.

Left to right: Jerry Liu, Senior Vice President, Procurement & Strategy, Dell Technologies; Bart Y.C. Chiang, Director, OMT EHS, Micron Technology Inc.; Dr. Floryan De Campo, Global Business Director Electronic Chemicals and Technology Solutions, Solvay; Jenny Bloomfield, Representative, Australian Representative to Taiwan; Joseph Wu, Vice President, Nanya Technology; Dr. Jwu-Sheng Hu, Senior Vice President, ITRI; Jo-Ann Su, Senior Director, SEMI Taiwan; Dr. Bess NG, Associate Principal, Sustainability Business, Schneider Electric; Olivier LETESSIER, President, Air Liquide Far Eastern Ltd.

SEMI Taiwan Sustainable Manufacturing Committee

SEMI established the SEMI Taiwan Sustainable Manufacturing Committee in 2022 to help semiconductor manufacturers work with industry, government and academia to accelerate the chip industry’s sustainability transformation.

Joseph Wu, Deputy General Manager at Nanya Technology, is chairman, and Jwu-Sheng Hu, Senior Vice president and Assistant Director at the Industrial Technology Research Institute, is vice chairman of the committee.

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