Lowering Chip Manufacturing’s Carbon Footprint

Lotsof innovation in the semiconductor industry goes towards making chipsmore energy-efficient. Less attention is paid to lowering the carbonfootprint of the chip manufacturing process itself.

Now, Applied’s engineers have developed a smart technology thatconserves resources by synchronizing the process tools in the fab withtheir 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 thatcould use this “green” solution, the total opportunity to lower thecarbon footprint becomes quite impressive.

Semiconductor fabs are always a hive of activity: robots orbunny-suited technicians silently whisk elaborately patterned wafersbetween processing stations to perform the hundreds of steps requiredto 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 stillclean, but not operating theater clean. The lighting is subdued, butit’s noisy. The subfab is home to vital equipment that supports theprocess tools upstairs: vacuum pumps, heat exchangers, gas delivery andemission control systems. This equipment normally runs all the time, 24x 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 saveresources by putting the support equipment into an idle state when thetool isn’t actively processing. A simple idea, but not easy toimplement. Making chips is a delicate business: all the hundreds ofsteps must be performed in exactly the same way every time. So who hasthe expertise to make this idea work without affecting themanufacturing process?

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

Of course, not all chip processing tools are made by Applied, butthe same methodology can be used across the entire fab. We encouragecompanies across the semiconductor industry to follow our lead and joinus in our efforts to minimize the carbon footprint of semiconductormanufacturing.

[1] CVD = Chemical Vapor Deposition

[2] Calculated using SEMI S23methodology on an Applied Producer® GT™ PECVD system at the MaydanTechnology Center in Sunnyvale, California. You can watch a promotionalvideo for the MTC here.

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

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