Georgia Bottomley

Global Water Intelligence

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Five key takeaways on facility approaches to environmental sustainability: UPM Community Event recap

A recap of the event 'Environmental Sustainability: Driving Innovation in the Semiconductor Industry and Beyond'

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This article contains a summary of the discussion by panelists Jim Snow (SCREEN), Josh Best (FTD Solutions), Nabil Mistkawi (Samsung Austin Semiconductor), Kevin Geoghegan (Intel), Paul Kerr (Intel), and moderator Slava Libman (FTD Solutions).

The most recent UPM Community Event saw a panel of experts tackling the nuanced and complex discussion around environmental sustainability for the semiconductor manufacturing industry. Environmental sustainability goals drive efforts to reduce consumption of water, energy and chemicals; recycle resources; and power fabs through greener energy sources. But how will fabs deal with the competing needs for moderation from an environmental perspective, and for innovation from a device technology perspective which necessitates increased resource consumption? Here are five key points which arose from the discussion at UPM’s last community event around environmental sustainability challenges for the semiconductor industry.

1. Collaboration can be accelerated by rethinking approaches to intellectual property.

Fears around sharing intellectual property (IP) often inhibit cross-industry collaboration on environmental progress. Paul Kerr, Strategic Facilities Engineer at Intel, pointed out that many fabs have a lot in common regarding sustainability – for example, most use the same tool platforms and have similar process chemistries. The industry needs to consider more deeply whether collaboration towards environmental sustainability will actually impact IP and methods to circumvent concerns. As an example, current IRDS collaboration efforts anonymize data and allow iterative feedback on common frameworks.

2. The industry must develop customizable solutions within a unified framework.

Future industry guidelines must look at sustainability from a holistic perspective. Though sustainability challenges are a shared matter, fabs have individual geographical and technological considerations in place that reject a one-size-fits-all approach to establishing key performance indicators (KPIs) for the whole industry. Instead, the industry needs a common KPI framework which enables benchmarking and models the competing demands of energy, water, and emissions to allow for prioritization.

As an example, Paul Kerr highlights how UPW system configurations change based on facility sustainability priorities and resource availability. For instance, reverse osmosis (RO) followed by ion exchange (IX) uses higher quantities of chemicals and less water, while IX followed by RO is less chemical-heavy, but more water intensive. The sequencing of water treatment might in this way depend on water availability in the fab’s geographic location.

3. Fabs must manage interconnected sustainability ambitions.

It is vital that sustainability initiatives be balanced with practical considerations of space and resource availability. Nabil Mistkawi, Principal Engineer and Technologist at Samsung Austin Semiconductor, stressed that resource recovery is a key avenue for making progress on sustainability, but there are some important caveats that must be taken into consideration. One central consideration must be space – systems that deal with recovery and reuse require a lot of space in the sub-fab, and engineers must optimize the layout of these systems to minimize their footprints. Kevin Geoghegan, Energy Management Program Lead at Intel, makes clear that the right sizing and capacity is crucial to reducing energy and water use.

Another crucial aspect is the trade-off between reducing water consumption through increased water treatment and recovery, and subsequent increased energy usage. Josh Best, VP of Innovation at FTD Solutions, posits that increased data modelling could be key to swiftly finding this equilibrium in a cost-effective way, if using an integrated approach which encompasses multiple factors.

4. Regulations and metrology are key barriers to progress.

Increasingly stringent external environmental regulations require early recognition and ongoing development of instruments to detect pollutants in waste streams, and new materials to replace hazardous process chemicals. For example, one potential challenge on the horizon is the proposed introduction of PFAS regulations in the US which could require detection and treatment of up to 4 parts per trillion. This will necessitate the early development of a new metrology capable of measuring such small quantities.

5. A proactive approach to sustainability is the only way forward.

For priorities around tools, water, energy, chemicals, and emissions to align, there must be early and open communication. Jim Snow, Senior Technologist at SCREEN, emphasizes that it is essential that facilities engineers be involved in the configuration stage of tool purchase to align tool capabilities with environmental sustainability strategies. Early integration of stream segregation and reuse strategies allows installation to become seamless. The semiconductor industry should therefore move towards a proactive approach to sustainability, integrating it during the design phase where possible to prevent and resolve potential issues before they can arise.

To hear more about environmental sustainability in fab facilities, view the recording here.

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