The modern world is dependent on semiconductors. They are present in virtually all aspects of our lives.
At a personal level, they power our smart phones, laptops and devices, and many appliances in our homes and workplaces. At a social level they are an indispensable component of transportation, health care, governance, financial systems, manufacturing, banking and communication – amongst many other sectors.
As the world’s population grows and technologies evolve, the semiconductor industry is increasingly under pressure to meet a demand which current production capabilities are unable to service. This high demand for semiconductors is unlikely to abate any time soon and new production facilities need to be brought online quickly to sustain this trend. Deerns is where collaboration, innovation and expertise come together to address this need.
The demand for higher production capacity comes at a time when the semiconductor industry is under pressure to transform its legacy production processes to satisfy current and future environmental and sustainability regulatory targets. This transformation is even more urgent because of the increasing cost and scarcity of raw materials needed for production processes.
Computer chips are the product of many processes, each of which must be absolutely perfect. There is no room for error. While there is an urgent need to replace unsustainable processes with appropriate alternatives, it is imperative to retain the 100% effectiveness of each production process.
Six major challenges include:
- Energy: production processes consume a lot of energy which is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive. To meet decarbonisation targets, consumption must be reduced, and renewable sources of energy used.
- GHG emissions: in this sector, the main contributors to the carbon footprint of facilities are emissions from purchased electricity, Perfluorocarbons (PFCs) and heat-transfer fluids (HTFs). Reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is one of the key objectives of the semiconductor industry.
- Water: production processes and facilities use vast amounts of water, most of which is discharged into sewers or drainage networks. Good quality water is becoming more difficult to source at an industrial scale. Water reuse and recycling is essential.
- Gas scarcity: production processes use rare gases such as neon and helium. These are becoming very difficult to obtain because of supply chain disruptions.
- Rare metals: raw materials such as nickel, cobalt and lithium are only available from developing countries which frequently lack labour or health and safety oversight and are known to exploit children. This makes the supply of these materials contentious as well as unreliable.
- Marketing: large companies which make extensive use of semiconductors in their products, such as Apple and Samsung, are mandated by their stockholders to reduce their carbon footprint to best serve society’s demands and expectations.
These challenges originate across the entire semiconductor supply chain. So, the production processes themselves need to be addressed to effectively reduce or replace unsustainable dependencies and practices. This is particularly true in the case of the machinery used in production. The suppliers of such equipment must develop new tools which use less energy and fewer global warming gases and chemicals, while also reducing emissions and toxic waste.
Our response to the major challenges our clients are facing:
- Long term master planning: locality analysis and siting of production facilities that are accessible and close to water, energy and other resources.
- Design of sustainable, future-proof production facilities optimised for building management operating systems.
- Design and development of replacement, recycling and recovery systems of valuable gases, chemicals and process water that were previously discarded.
- The design of critical production envelopes such as cleanrooms and clean lifts, and their associated facilities (HVAC) and utilities.
- Integration of new systems and best practice across the entire supply chain in both greenfield and brownfield projects.
" Deerns is designing and implementing a system to reuse gases that are used in the EUV machines and discarded after use.
Here’s where we have fun with circularity
Hydrogen fuel cells: One of our clients in the Netherlands provides 85% of the world’s chip makers with everything they need – hardware, software and services. Deerns is designing and implementing a system to reuse gases that are used in the EUV machines and discarded after use. One such gas is hydrogen, which can be converted into electricity through the use of fuel cells. With over 10 years of experience with fuel cells we are now looking at using this innovation in their facility. Once the technology is tried and tested, we will be able to supply it to companies further down the supply chain – so the sustainability benefits across the industry are substantial.
Reusing rare Neon: Another mission critical gas in semiconductor production is neon. Until recently, over half the world’s neon was produced in the Ukraine. There is no replacement for neon and, due to the shutdown of Ukrainian production, neon is now very scarce and very expensive. In response to this crisis, Deerns designed a purification system which enables the neon gas used in machinery to be reused efficiently and economically, achieving a near 100% recovery rate with a payback period of just one month.
Resource and business efficiency: The future of the semiconductor industry is tied to innovations that reduce unsustainable dependencies. At Deerns, we are working hard to help our clients and their customers reduce consumption, recycle and reuse existing resources, save on production costs, improve business continuity and meet increasingly stringent environmental and safety targets.