John Tracy

VP of Sales and Business Dev.

Based in Boston, MA

Gradiant; Water Conservation; Sustainability;

Net-Zero Water and Sustainability Goals in the Semiconductor Industry

Key takeaways and discussion points from the UPM 2022 roundtable session on Net-Zero Water

Public and pre-public companies have begun reporting on their Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals and sustainability targets in annual reports to stakeholders, and there are many different reporting strategies and commitments for water usage. Intel, for example, has established a “net-water positive” target, similar to multinational companies such as Coca Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Unilever. Intel presented this ambition in a keynote speech at the recent UPM 2022 conference in Phoenix, Arizona. Micron and GlobalFoundries have taken a more straightforward approach of setting and charting progress towards water reclamation targets for their operations. 

At a roundtable session I hosted at the UPM conference, titled ‘Net-Zero Water’, many questions and good discussions arose around how to compare and track the math of sustainability targets among different chipmakers. 
Industry activities are increasingly prioritizing water sustainability. A new SEMI standard (SEMI F98) has been developed for water recycling strategy, to help guide fabs on reuse options and standardize reporting of metrics. At UPM 2022, we also learned about a IRDS Focus Team for Water + Energy, focused on the industry’s sustainability challenges, optimization between processes to recover higher percentages of water and the energy they require, and improving sustainability while integrating ever more complex sets of process steps into each new device technology node.  
One interesting thread of the Net-Zero Water roundtable discussion was the big difference between what is possible and feasible in water reuse for older 200mm and 300mm fabs versus newly designed fabs being built now. Older fabs are piped to discharge to only one or two locations at a central plant. It is more difficult and expensive to segregate streams for treatment and reuse within these fabs. New fabs have ten to fifteen segregated streams which can be treated in a custom manner for reuse. This approach simplifies the treatment required for most streams and avoids a single “Frankenstein” wastewater stream requiring multiple steps of pre-treatment before going through a reclaim reverse osmosis (RO) system to treat the high levels of salinity, organics, and metals, in addition to silica and hardness. 
Finally, a major driver for fabs in some US states which will dictate treatment requirements for existing semiconductor plants, are per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) and azole molecules being added to discharge permits. To keep out of regulatory trouble, fabs will prioritize the isolation and destruction or removal of these pollutants and these projects will take precedence over other types of reclamation projects.  
Facilities managers and the water technology providers they work with will have to determine how to balance water recovery, regulatory compliance, energy use, and capital costs. It is exciting to see the US chip fabrication industry become more serious about water reclamation and sustainability at both new and existing fabs. I will take the entire ecosystem of design engineers, fab operators, water technology companies, and industry groups to develop the smartest solutions. 


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