Manufacturing semiconductor success through smart water management

Semiconductor manufacturing stock photo, Robotic arms with silicon wafers for semiconductor manufacturing

We live in the age of information. Smart phones, wearable devices, and other technology enable access to information almost anywhere, providing a constant connection to the world around us. As technology becomes more compact, so too do the components that power them. In the last 50 years, breakthrough semiconductor innovation has allowed devices to become smaller, faster and more reliable. As semiconductor manufacturers work with reduced feature sizes, their process and water requirements become significantly more complex.

Fabricators rely on ultrapure water sources to produce semiconductors of all sizes. As the name suggests, the quality of ultrapure water helps maintain the integrity of delicate circuits on semiconductor wafers. Manufacturers also need water to manage utility systems, such as cooling towers, chillers and boilers. Wastewater is another consideration: Wastewater streams contain contaminants like metals, fluoride, and more that must be removed before the water can be discharged or reused. These water sources require specialized treatment to help fabricators minimize use, maximize quality, and reduce scaling and corrosion risk in their equipment assets. 

To address the diverse array of water sources, manufacturers benefit from taking a smart water management approach. Smart water management requires a manufacturer to look across the entire operation, and outside the facility fence, to determine how to use water most efficiently and responsibly. The microelectronics industry can be water intensive, as Dan LeCloux, SVP of Research, Development and Engineering for Ecolab Industrial, reflects in a recent blog. Reducing, reusing, and recycling water can enable fabs to meet their production goals while still operating sustainably to minimize the impact on the surrounding community.

Smart water management requires a manufacturer to look across the entire operation, and outside the facility fence, to determine how to use water most efficiently and responsibly.

Nalco Water, an Ecolab company, uses smart water management to help semiconductor fabricators balance sustainability, productivity, and reliability in their operations. In one example, we helped NXP Semiconductor, a major fabricator of micro-electromechanical systems, microcontrollers, radio frequency transceivers and amplifiers, optimize cooling water operations at their Austin, Texas, facility. By implementing 3D TRASAR™ technology for cooling water, along with comprehensive support provided by local personnel and the Ecolab Global Intelligence Center, we helped the site save 7.2 million gallons of water and reduce wastewater discharge by 8.5 million gallons in a single year. When combined with other productivity improvements and cost savings, we delivered a total annual value of nearly $115,000.

In another example, we helped a manufacturer of data storage equipment achieve water and energy savings across multiple U.S.-based facilities over 15 years. Using 3D TRASAR technology for cooling water, COIL-FLO coil cleaning programs, and a silica removal process, our programs addressed challenges like high scaling potential and fouling. By optimizing cooling system operations and heat transfer efficiency, the company has saved an estimated seven million gallons of water, five million kilowatt hours of energy, and three thousand tons of CO2 emissions annually, with a total value delivered of more than $450,000 per year.

For Nalco Water, supporting the growing semiconductor market is as much a climate responsibility as it is a strategic priority. We recently joined the Semiconductor Climate Consortium founded by SEMI, the global industry association representing the electronics manufacturing and design supply chain. The consortium brings together companies from across the value chain to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions in support of the Paris Agreement and related efforts towards 1.5°C. Water, energy and greenhouse gas emissions are inherently linked, and saving water often directly correlates to other savings throughout the operation. With a global footprint of water expertise that extends across more than 40 industries, we can contribute our unique perspective on the interconnected water-energy relationship to help manufacturers build resilient and sustainable operations.

Smart water management requires manufacturers to think globally while acting locally. By balancing enterprise objectives with site-specific water needs, companies can advance water, energy, and business goals in tandem. As product demand increases and processes grow more complex, manufacturers can respond by adopting smart water strategies to balance the dual pressures of productivity and sustainability.

About the Author

Mukul Girotra

Mukul Girotra

VP and GM, Global High Tech – Nalco Water, an Ecolab Company

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