It is encouraging that SEMI is paying more attention to environmental issues. As Dean Freeman reported, SEMICON West devoted an entire day to the topic at its Sustainability Summit, led by Bhat. There was also a Materials and Sustainability panel discussion the previous day. I gave a talk called “How to Tell the Right Sustainability Story for Printed Electronics” in the Strategies and Sustainability session at the co-located FLEX Conference.

If you attended SEMICON West in San Francisco or registered for the virtual conference and missed any sustainability-related sessions, the talks are available on the on-demand platform through August 13. (If you’re reading this after that date, sorry, but you are out of luck.)

Unfortunately, conference organizers scheduled my session at the same time as the Sustainability Summit breakout sessions, so I had to step out. I was able to attend the Summit keynote sessions, though. I agree with Dean that despite the progress and pronouncements of net zero carbon goals, the industry is still behind. Companies throughout the supply chain need to collaborate on solutions.

Scope 3 and Energy Consumption

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions calculations are one example where collaboration is essential. Perhaps you work at a privately held company that supplies chemicals or components to fabs, assembly houses, or original equipment manufacturers (OEMs). Your Scope 1 (direct) emissions are your customers’ Scope 3 (indirect) emissions. Even though you don’t have shareholders or governments demanding that you calculate and report on your emissions, your customers may still need the data.

Applied Materials measured its first Scope 3 emissions baseline in 2019. Most of the company’s Scope 3 emissions (79%) come from the use of its products. That covers the energy required to run the tools and the consumption of process chemicals and gases. It falls under Category 11 in the GHG Protocol. No semiconductor industry standard for measuring Category 11 emissions exists, so Applied Materials needed to make assumptions based on incomplete data. The company cannot optimize the energy consumption of its tools and reduce Scope 3 emissions without cooperation from suppliers and customers.

Speaking of energy consumption, that was the focus of the Materials and Sustainability panel discussion. A speaker noted that information technology currently comprises about 10% of global energy consumption and is predicted to rise to 21% by 2030. One approach to control the increase is to design processors to consume less energy during use. For the foundries, that energy consumption is one part of their Scope 3 emissions.

Are Today’s Solutions Enough?

Panelists discussed solutions like designs with power gating at the chip level so that devices do not continue to draw power from the grid when they are off. They mentioned manufacturing processes that run at lower temperatures or create more devices from a single wafer. When it comes to design, more advanced nodes might be more energy efficient, but not necessarily. The optimum node depends on the application. Better energy efficiency can also make batteries last longer. Then there’s the concept of billions of devices working together like a swarm to consume less energy.

These are all excellent ideas, but are they enough? NXP Semiconductors projects explosive growth, from 3 billion devices per year to 75 billion annually ten years from now. How can that be sustainable? Does society need all those devices? Do the benefits outweigh the costs? I don’t know, but I believe that is a question worth asking, not only for NXP but for all companies in the industry.

The prospect of advances in design, materials, and processes that reduce energy and resource consumption is exciting. For sustainability to accelerate, we need more companies to share their success stories and challenges and commit to pre-competitive collaboration. Let’s continue to build awareness and knowledge together.


Editor’s  Note: SEMI recently appointed  Mousumi Bhat VP of SEMI Sustainability Programs (pictured above with SEMI CEO Ajit Manocha, being interviewed by Françoise von Trapp for the 3D InCites Podcast.

Julia Goldstein

Julia Goldstein is an author and business owner on a mission to make manufacturing more…

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