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Semiconductors: Shortages of Water and Electricity Put Pressure on Key Chip Makers in Taiwan

By Dick Weisinger

The manufacture of semiconductors is an extremely water-intensive process. Manufacturing facilities typically use millions of ultra-pure gallons of water daily. After use, the cleaning process can result in water being contaminated by heavy metals and toxic solvents. After use, the water is often treated before being discharged with often less than half of the water being recycled and reused.

Drought and the competition for water for drinking water and other industries is also growing and causing the cost of water to rise dramatically. As the world climate changes, the conditions are expected to only grow worse.

Water shortage is particularly worrisome for Taiwan where large semiconductor manufacturing companies are located which most of the rest of the world are dependent on. Taiwan is prone to drought, long dry seasons and geography that doesn’t make long term retention easy.

Scott Jones, President of IC Knowledge, said that “water usage without recycling depends on the wafer size and the process complexity. 300-mm (12-inch) wafers used at the leading edge today are more water-efficient than 200-mm wafers that were mainstream 20 years ago. However, over time processes have been getting more complex and water use per wafer has been going up if you don’t consider recycling. Without recycling, I don’t believe semiconductors would have been able to expand in Taiwan the way they have.”

Water shortages aren’t the only problem chipmakers in Taiwan have. There is also increased demand for electricity on the island that is not keeping up with production, causing frequent outages and rolling blackouts.

Syed Alam, global lead of the semiconductors practice at Accenture, told the Wall Street Journal that “Taiwan is the center of gravity for semiconductor manufacturing. This is one thing you don’t need adding more pressure on the situation.”

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