Lowering Chip Manufacturing's Carbon Footprint

Dec12009

Lots of innovation in the semiconductor industry goes towards making chips more energy-efficient. Less attention is paid to lowering the carbon footprint of the chip manufacturing process itself.

Now, Applied's engineers have developed a smart technology that conserves resources by synchronizing the process tools in the fab with their support systems in the subfab. The new technology can reduce CO2 emissions for a CVD[1] chip processing system by 220,000 pounds annually[2]. When you consider that a modern fab may have more than 200 tools that could use this “green” solution, the total opportunity to lower the carbon footprint becomes quite impressive.

Semiconductor fabs are always a hive of activity: robots or bunny-suited technicians silently whisk elaborately patterned wafers between processing stations to perform the hundreds of steps required to make modern semiconductor devices. The air is scrubbed and filtered, since even a single speck of dust can ruin a microchip.

Downstairs, in the sub-fab area, it’s a different story. It’s still clean, but not operating theater clean. The lighting is subdued, but it's noisy. The subfab is home to vital equipment that supports the process tools upstairs: vacuum pumps, heat exchangers, gas delivery and emission control systems. This equipment normally runs all the time, 24 x 7 x 365, whether the tools upstairs are processing wafers or not.  The sub-fab burns 40% of the electricity for the whole fab[3], with similar numbers for water and gases.

There’s an environment and economic opportunity here to save resources by putting the support equipment into an idle state when the tool isn’t actively processing. A simple idea, but not easy to implement. Making chips is a delicate business: all the hundreds of steps must be performed in exactly the same way every time. So who has the expertise to make this idea work without affecting the manufacturing process?

Enter the Applied iSYS™ platform, designed by the same engineers that made the process tool in the fab. Each iSYS unit contains all the vacuum pumps and emissions control systems needed to support one tool. Most importantly, there’s also a dedicated control computer which talks to the tool upstairs and keeps each piece of equipment in the most efficient operating state at any given time, saving power, water and gas equivalent to 200MWh of energy or 220,000 pounds of CO2 emissions annually.

Of course, not all chip processing tools are made by Applied, but the same methodology can be used across the entire fab. We encourage companies across the semiconductor industry to follow our lead and join us in our efforts to minimize the carbon footprint of semiconductor manufacturing.

[1] CVD = Chemical Vapor Deposition

[2] Calculated using SEMI S23 methodology on an Applied Producer® GT™ PECVD system at the Maydan Technology Center in Sunnyvale, California. You can watch a promotional video for the MTC here.

[3] 2007 International SEMATECH Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI) survey.