The semiconductor industry’s waste affects the earth as much as it does manufacturers’ bank accounts. Chip manufacturing results in emissions of ammonia, highly reactive hydrogen peroxide, and corrosive acids, among other chemicals.
The fabrication facility needs to manage these as much as it does the waste caused by their devices’ eventual discard. Some manufacturers have overcome testing and assembly costs at the level of monolithic microwave integrated circuits (MMIC). This way, the number of chips can be pushed down, but this strategy also results in higher non-recurring engineering (NRE) costs. There is no simple way to overcome the problem. Engineering teams face a staggering degree of complexity, along with the codes and standards of seven different U.S. agencies. Employee health and safety demands tight controls and protective equipment, but this doesn’t address environmental issues across the product lifecycle. The Electronic Industry Citizen Coalition has a number of key resources to this end.
Three phases of waste management are needed:
- Waste elimination through manufacturing methods that limit dangerous materials.
- Waste reduction through techniques that reduce emissions.
- Waste treatment to meet local standards.
Of these, waste elimination offers the most hope. Even basic changes at this level can have a powerful effect on the environment. New and more eco-friendly techniques are generally easy to put into practice. Silicon wafers don’t need to be cleaned with corrosives, for example. Citric acid does the trick just as well. Dry plasma cleaning is another obvious solution. Water use can be minimized through counter current flow rinsing, and best practices for IP selection can be followed to gain the best configurations for each application. Energy remains the most wasteful element of fabrications, so green power cannot be ignored.
Using these methods, the industry can achieve sustainability benchmarks without adding unrealistic amounts to manufacturing costs.