Domestic semiconductor manufacturing resiliency has become a top priority among most countries worldwide. Essential to almost any modern economy, semiconductors have become a necessity for most industries as technology continues its rapid integration into most market products. Growing demand for customization, connectivity, and “smart” devices has increased demand for electronic components in everything from coffee makers to pacemakers.
As demand for electronic components rises, talks on the environmental impact of semiconductor manufacturing have only increased.
Climate change, like domestic semiconductor manufacturing resiliency, has become a top priority for most governments globally. For many companies, reduction of fossil fuels, efforts to increase renewable energy technologies, and limitations of harmful environmental hazards have become essential aspects to align with overall business goals. The semiconductor industry is no exception.
The semiconductor industry greatly contributes to the overall percentage of greenhouse gas emissions. According to a Harvard Study, 75% of the overall total CO2 emissions are created through the process of semiconductor manufacturing itself. The more powerful the chip is the more significant the environmental impact. The continued proliferation of consumer devices and other technologies is incurring tremendous ecological debt regarding semiconductors' rapidly growing carbon footprint.
More recently, semiconductor manufacturers are applying new sustainability practices to reduce emissions effectively and immediately. This is partly due to the rising number of countries setting ambitious goals to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Many chipmakers are setting out to achieve monumental goals toward sustainability, such as Intel’s commitment to using 100% renewable energies for its new production facility and TSMC’s intent to reduce its emissions to net zero by 2050.
These actions will be a remarkable step forward in reducing the environmental impact of the rapidly growing chip sector. Due to the toxic legacy of many semiconductors, more aggressive strategies might be necessary for the last stretch to reach net zero emissions.
The semiconductor manufacturing process emits significant portions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) yearly. The origin of these GHG emissions varies in intensity depending on where they are produced along the semiconductor production line. The GHGs emitted through most manufacturing processes are divided into different classifications called “scopes.”
Most sustainability efforts within the semiconductor industry revolve around Scope 1 and Scope 2. These strategies often align with an organization's operational targets. For example, Scope 1 emissions, which directly relate to tool-related energy consumption, can be mitigated by replacing tools with others with higher energy efficiency, smart systems, and more in-depth regulation. Scope 2 can be aided by utilizing renewable resources for electricity production, such as solar power, optimizing energy efficiency in manufacturing, and simply using LED fixtures within buildings.
Of course, limiting Scope 2 emissions through renewable technologies is determined by the country’s access to sustainable electricity alternatives. If a country is entirely dependent on fossil fuels for electricity generation, it will be much harder for semiconductor manufacturers to achieve better energy optimization that decreases overall GHG emissions.
In total, Scope 1 and 2 emissions represent 65% of all emissions that are released through the semiconductor manufacturing process. Scope 3 upstream and downstream emissions comprise the rest and have provided challenges to semiconductor manufacturers as there is no one solution. Upstream Scope 3 emissions are broken up and could be spread across hundreds of suppliers and thousands more materials. According to a report by McKinsey, semiconductor companies can leverage new methodologies and automated baselining tools and implement cross-functional programs to provide support to improve overall upstream Scope 3 emissions. Still, it requires strict cooperative efforts with their suppliers.
Lack of clarity and visibility hinder attempts at accurately calculating a company’s Scope 3 upstream emissions due to the various factors associated with individual processes or materials. In its report, McKinsey states that it can be challenging to quantify the emissions related to the actual nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) processes, as the material rates are high for GWP. However, fugitive emissions, meaning gases that escape unintentionally, related to the production of NF3 could be higher than the estimated emissions the NF3 processes knowingly create.
A way to combat the amount of GHG emissions produced is by limiting the number of suppliers a semiconductor manufacturer works with.
“While fabs may deal with hundreds of suppliers during procurement, our analysis revealed that about six to ten suppliers will account for half of emissions for chemicals, wafers, and gases,” reported McKinsey. “About three to five suppliers will account for over half of emissions for maintenance, spare parts, and capital expenditures for equipment upgrades. These patterns mean that semiconductor companies can address most Scope 3 upstream emissions by focusing on a relatively small group of suppliers.”
The first step should be to create a detailed and reliable baseline by examining procurement data for Tier 1 suppliers, ensuring exact quantities for materials are recorded. From there, semiconductor companies can establish emission baselines, identify their decoration levers, and work toward reducing emissions where a company should focus its efforts, whether waste reduction, implementing renewable energy, or optimizing materials, depending on a semiconductor company’s unique weak points.
Increasing the use of logic and memory chips will require greater electricity and significantly advanced technology. With goals to meet net-zero emissions by the half of the century, semiconductor companies will have to kick it into high gear.
No solution can completely solve the GHG emission problem since it is a multi-pronged challenge requiring different strategies. Data-driven insights and artificial intelligence are helping organizations create an emissions baseline to identify where to begin their transformation toward sustainability. Digital tools can help create comprehensive databases of raw material consumption and material-specific carbon emission factors collected from Tier 1 suppliers.
From this information, semiconductor manufacturers can apply these statistics to their organizations and grapple with how to lower emissions.
Leadership commitment and involvement in sustainability are essential in efforts to drive decarbonization at all organizational levels, including technology, development, operations, and procurement. The focus on decarbonization should be improving workflows around chemicals, wafers, and gas, as they are the main contributors to a majority of GHG emissions, no matter the scope.
Decarbonization efforts within the fragmented and complex electronic component supply chain will vary from company to company. Broad in scope, unity from stakeholders to design teams will be necessary as the semiconductor industry continues to push forward in reaching low or net-zero emission goals.
The best way to begin decarbonization strategies is through accurate data collection to derive intelligent insights into current GHG emissions. Furthermore, automating workflows to optimize processes, reducing waste with precise calculations, and minimizing the amount of toxic chemicals utilized in manufacturing operations can help lessen a semiconductor company’s carbon footprint.
Sourceability, an electronic components distributor with a comprehensive digital tool suite, aims to help improve sustainability along the electronic components supply chain. Datalynq, Sourceability’s premier market intelligence tool utilizes real-time market data and historical price trends to offer easy-to-understand scores into design risk or multi-source availability. This data comes straight from Sourcengine, Sourceability’s leading e-commerce site for electronic components.
Similarly, Datalynq offers predictive analytics to help alert companies to supply chain disruptions or upcoming electronic component obsolescence. Proactive strategies can help reduce excess electronic component inventory, prevent unnecessary double ordering, and better commit to sustainable practices.
Sourceability is ready to prioritize sustainability in 2024 and help semiconductor companies embrace a greener tomorrow.