How Semiconductor Industry Worsens Climate Change

How Semiconductor Industry Worsens Climate Change

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The semiconductor shortage has hogged headlines throughout the year. Semiconductor chips are used in everything from computer processors, laptops, mobile phones, automobiles, TVs, electronics and even many home appliances. But while semiconductors permeate almost every aspect of modern life, very few are aware of the enormous carbon capital that is required for manufacturing semiconductor chips.

Semiconductor chip processing and manufacturing is an energy and water-intensive process that also has the added rider of creating hazardous waste. Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company Limited (TSMC), the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturing company, used 5 percent of Taiwan’s entire electrical capacity and over 63 million tonnes of water. TSMC is not the only chip manufacturer which is using resources to such an intensive capacity. Other large semiconductor manufacturers like Intel and Samsung also have the same problems.

Inability to go green

Semiconductor companies have committed to reduce their water wastage and energy usage, or at least reduce their dependence on fossil fuel energy sources. But the companies have been unable to meet most of their sustainability standards in recent years. TSMC has set out to reach net-zero emissions by the year 2050, even as it expands its own manufacturing capacity.

However, with the chip shortage expected to stretch into 2023, companies are likely to keep environmental concerns on the back-burner while they try to catch up with pent up demand. But demand is only expected to rise dramatically in the coming years.

Paradoxically, semiconductor chips are key components in many green technologies like electric vehicles, solar panels and even turbines. With the world moving towards green technologies to cut down on carbon emissions, the increased demand for semiconductor chips will only raise carbon emissions.

Greater scrutiny needed

The way out of the cycle is for newer technologies and large investments from semiconductor manufacturers to reduce their dependence on fossil-fuel-based energy and reduce their water wastage. But perhaps what is needed is a greater scrutiny on semiconductor manufacturers, who are often shielded from environmental action due to their distance from consumers who are often unaware of the scale of emissions produce by them.

“The more visibility you have of the environmental impact of any product containing a TSMC-manufactured chip, the more the massive purchasing power of the big electronics companies will come into play,” says Josh Matthews, associate director of HFS Research, whose research focuses on technology and sustainability.

“TSMC might be able to get away with some negative publicity or local sanctions, but if the threat is a big customer choosing Samsung instead then it becomes an issue they have to deal with,” he added.

(Edited by : Shoma Bhattacharjee)

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