Editorial Feature

Sustainable Water Practices in the Semiconductor Industry

Did you know that the semiconductor industry heavily relies on pure water to manufacture microchips? But that process generates massive amounts of wastewater that must be treated and discharged properly or reused. This article will explore the importance of sustainable water practices in the semiconductor industry and how they can address water scarcity and quality issues.

Sustainable Water Practices in the Semiconductor Industry

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Sustainable Water Practices in Semiconductor Manufacturing

From your smartphone to your laptop, semiconductors are the backbone of our modern digital world, and they require Ultra-Pure Water (UPW) to produce high-quality microchips.

In 2022, Global UPW consumption was predicted to be 5.5 ​× ​108 ​m3. Meanwhile, In 2021, GHG emissions, energy consumption, and average water use were 0.84 ​kg CO2 equivalent/cm2, 1.15 ​kWh/cm2, and 8.22 ​L/cm2, respectively, in the semiconductor industry. In addition, with water scarcity and environmental regulations becoming more pressing, the semiconductor industry needs to adopt sustainable water practices to maintain its growth and competitiveness.

Some companies are leading the way by reducing water consumption, recycling water, using alternative water sources, and improving wastewater treatment.

Why is this so important? Well, not only does the industry face significant risks from water scarcity and quality issues that can disrupt production and increase costs, but it also has a responsibility to support the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

SDG 6: Clean Water and Sanitation calls for ensuring the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all. The semiconductor industry can support this goal by adopting a holistic approach through water recycling, regulations, and collaborations as part of its water management practices to ensure a brighter and cleaner future for everyone.

Reducing Water Consumption and Costs through Recycling Systems

Water recycling systems are gaining popularity as they treat and reuse water from various sources, reducing water consumption and costs. Additionally, they enhance water security, resilience, and environmental quality.

The semiconductor industry can also benefit from these systems by reusing wastewater generated by different processes such as baths, sinks, and washing machines.

Some companies that have successfully implemented water recycling systems include TSMC, which reused 42.3 million tons of industrial reclaimed water in 2019, accounting for 67% of its total water consumption. They have been actively investing in developing reclaimed water technology ever since 2015. There is also NXP, which recycled 1.8 million cubic meters of water, representing 18% of its total water consumption, by installing water recycling systems at its manufacturing sites.

These examples highlight how water recycling systems can effectively reduce water consumption and costs in the semiconductor industry.

Regulations and Incentives for Water Recycling in the Semiconductor Industry

Some barriers and risks are associated with water recycling, such as regulatory compliance, technical feasibility, environmental impact, and public perception.

Some regulations and incentives for water recycling in the semiconductor industry include government mandates for energy efficiency, wastewater treatment and reuse subsidies, tax credits for water conservation measures, and voluntary certification programs for environmental performance.

Regulations can incentivize or mandate water recycling practices and ensure compliance with water quality standards by imposing fees, fines, quotas, or subsidies on water use or discharge. For example, the Taiwanese government has implemented a tiered pricing system for industrial water use, charging higher rates for higher consumption levels. It has also imposed a water resource fee on wastewater discharge based on volume and pollution level.

In Singapore, the government has introduced a water conservation tax and a waterborne fee on potable water use for non-domestic sectors. It has also mandated that all new semiconductor plants must install water recycling facilities to achieve at least a 30% recycling rate. These approaches can help companies improve the sustainability of water in the semiconductor industry.

Collaborations for Water Security and Quality in Semiconductor Manufacturing

Water security and quality are critical for this industry to ensure product reliability, operational efficiency, and environmental compliance. However, water scarcity and pollution also pose significant challenges for semiconductor manufacturers, especially in regions such as China, where water resources are unevenly distributed and heavily contaminated.

To address these challenges, some semiconductor manufacturers have collaborated with stakeholders such as governments, suppliers, customers, NGOs, and communities to implement water management strategies such as water conservation, recycling, treatment, monitoring, and reporting. Some recent trends in these collaborations include setting water reduction targets, joining industry alliances, and supporting local water projects.

The semiconductor industry can collaborate with water utilities and regulators to ensure water security and quality for their operations by sharing data, expertise, resources, and best practices. Some examples of successful partnerships and initiatives that have improved water efficiency, conservation, and quality for both parties are:

Intel has partnered with local water utilities in Arizona, Oregon, New Mexico, and Israel to co-fund water infrastructure projects, such as pipelines, wells, and treatment plants. These projects have increased water supply reliability and reduced water stress for both Intel and its communities.

Wuxi City has established a joint venture with a new semiconductor fabricator in China to produce semiconductors for domestic appliances. The fabricator uses a range of pumps to recycle wastewater and reduce lime consumption. The city provides treated wastewater as an alternative water source for the fabricator.

Conclusions

Water management systems can help semiconductor manufacturers reduce water consumption and costs by reusing wastewater from various sources. Regulations can encourage or require water recycling practices and ensure compliance with water quality standards by imposing different measures on water use or discharge.

The semiconductor industry can collaborate with water utilities and regulators to ensure water security and quality for their operations by sharing data, expertise, resources, and best practices. By adopting a holistic approach through water recycling, regulations, and collaborations, the semiconductor industry can support the Clean Water and Sanitation goal and contribute to a more sustainable future.

Continue reading: Integrating Sustainability into Graphene Nanomaterial Synthesis

References and Further Reading

Baskaran, A. (2017). Waste Not, Want Not – Water Use in the Semiconductor Industry [Online]. sustainalytics.com. Available at: https://www.sustainalytics.com/esg-research/resource/investors-esg-blog/waste-not-want-not-water-use-in-the-semiconductor-industry 

Englund, K. (2022). How semiconductor companies can lead on sustainability [Online]. Ey.com. Available at: https://www.ey.com/en_us/tmt/how-semiconductor-companies-can-lead-on-sustainability

Enuh, B.M. (2023). Gallium Nitride Semiconductors in 5G Networks [Online]. AZoM.com. Available at: https://www.azom.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=22494 

McKinsey and Company (2022). Sustainability at semiconductor fabs | McKinsey [Online]. McKinsey and Company. Available at: https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/semiconductors/our-insights/sustainability-in-semiconductor-operations-toward-net-zero-production 

Multani, K. (2020). Water Scarcity and the Semiconductor Industry [Online]. Stanford.edu. Available at: http://large.stanford.edu/courses/2020/ph240/multani2/ 

NXP Semiconductors, (2023). Water [Online]. nxp.com. Available at: https://www.nxp.com/company/about-nxp/sustainability-and-esg/environment/water:WATER 

TSMC. (2021). TSMC Leads the Semiconductor Industry in Reusing Industrial Reclaimed Water for Manufacturing Process [Online]. esc.tsmc.com. Available at: https://esg.tsmc.com/en/update/greenManufacturing/caseStudy/45/index.html

UNDP. (2015). Goal 6: Clean water and sanitation | Sustainable Development Goals | United Nations Development Programme [Online]. UNDP.org. Available at: https://www.undp.org/arab-states/sustainable-development-goals/clean-water-and-sanitation

Wang, Q., Huang, N., Cai, H., Chen, X., Wu, Y. (2023a). Water strategies and practices for sustainable development in the semiconductor industry. Water Cycle, 4, pp. 12–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watcyc.2022.12.001

Wang, Q., Huang, N., Chen, Z., Chen, X., Cai, H., Wu, Y. (2023b). Environmental data and facts in the semiconductor manufacturing industry: An unexpected high water and energy consumption situation. Water Cycle, 4, pp. 47–54. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.watcyc.2023.01.004

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Blaise Manga Enuh

Written by

Blaise Manga Enuh

Blaise Manga Enuh has primary interests in biotechnology and bio-safety, science communication, and bioinformatics. Being a part of a multidisciplinary team, he has been able to collaborate with people of different cultures, identify important project needs, and work with the team to provide solutions towards the accomplishment of desired targets. Over the years he has been able to develop skills that are transferrable to different positions which have helped his accomplish his work.

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