Water Scarcity Concerns Drive Semiconductor Industry to Adopt New Technologies (“IEEE Spectrum”)In these days of seemingly never-ending chip...Water Scarcity Concerns Drive Semiconductor Industry to Adopt New Technologies (“IEEE Spectrum”)
In these days of seemingly never-ending chip shortages, more and greater varieties of semiconductors are in demand. Chip fabs around the world are now racing to catch up to the world’s many microelectronic needs. And chip fabs need a lot of water to operate.
By some estimates, a large chip fab can use up to 10 million gallons of water a day, which is equivalent to the water consumption of roughly 300,000 households.
While semiconductor companies have long understood that water access is a key element to their business, over the past decade that awareness has become more acute. Back in 2015, a drought in Taiwan (where 11 of the 14 largest fabs in the world are located), led Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. to open up its plants to inspection to demonstrate their water conservation efforts. Also in 2015, Intel made it known that it had reduced its water consumption by over 40 percent from its 2010 levels in response to the arid conditions at the sites where its plants are located.
Since that time, water recycling at semiconductor plants has continued to increase, according to Prakash Govindan, chief operating officer at Gradiant, a company that offers end-to-end water recycling technologies to a range of industries, including semiconductors.
“Conventional treatment of wastewater at semiconductor plants had recycled anywhere from 40 percent to 70 percent of water used in their processes,” explains Govindan. “Some manufacturers still only recycle 40 percent of the water they use.”
However, over the past two years Gradiant has been working with semiconductor plants, improving their water reuse so that they’re able to recycle 98 percent of the water they use. So, instead of bringing in 10 million gallons of freshwater a day from outside, these new recycling technologies mean they need to draw only 200,000 gallons of water from outside the plant to operate.
The technology that Gradiant has developed is based around counterflow reverse osmosis (CFRO), which is an adaptation of a well-established reverse osmosis technique. Counterflow streams enable the technology to push water recovery to much higher levels than preexisting reverse osmosis techniques could.
While reverse osmosis techniques depend on high pressure that typically demands a lot of energy, Gradiant has developed a thermodynamic balancing technique that minimizes the driving force across the filtering membrane, therefore reducing the energy consumption for a given amount of water treated.