Tuesday, October 3, 2023

Practically Living Green

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The Impact of Semiconductors On the Environment

It’s hard to not be aware of the ongoing semiconductor shortage that’s making everything from cars to PlayStation 5’s hard to find. Semiconductors are used to build everything from smartphones to wind turbines or electric cars.

In some respects, they can even be considered the building blocks of the modern world. However, have you ever considered the environmental impact these chips are having on the world? Some of it is good, and some of it isn’t.

Let’s take a look at how semiconductors are impacting climate change.

What Are Semiconductors?

Semiconductors are materials that conduct electricity better than an insulator, but not as good as a conductor would. While they can be made from multiple substances, today, most are made from silicon, germanium, and gallium arsenide.

They are used to control the flow of the current within electronic devices.

Semiconductor Manufacturing Has A Huge Footprint

As the building blocks of electronics, you can expect the demand to be high, which is what is making the shortage so painful today.

Producing semiconductor chips does not just require a huge amount of energy, it also requires a lot of water. And the end result isn’t just a chip, there’s a lot of hazardous waste products.

For comparison, Intel’s chip factory used up three times as much water as Ford plants did. On top of this, they produced twice as much hazardous waste.

The largest semiconductor manufacturer, TSMC, has 62% of its total emissions that come from energy use. Now you may be thinking in terms of carbon emissions, but that’s not the best metric here.

Without getting too much into the manufacturing process, semiconductor production actually releases something far worse than carbon, or even methane. It releases PFCx like nitrogen trifluoride (NF3).

NF3 is 17,000 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of heat-trapping.

Semiconductors Are Necessary For Green Technology

Semiconductors are used in every electronic device. This includes the key staples of green technology like solar, wind, electric cars, and more.

Semiconductors are necessary for the world to transition away from fossil fuels and into renewable energy. There is nothing that could replace them at this time. Although, innovation in this space happens often.

The reality is, we need semiconductors to create green technology. There is no other way it can exist.

The Process Must Become More Effcient

While semiconductors have a huge footprint, it doesn’t mean they are bad for the environment. Instead, it’s not black and white.

These chips are essential for every electrical device and that won’t change for a very long time. The real solution is to make the process greener. The energy it uses should come from renewables, the process needs to become more efficient by using less water and producing less waste.

The problem is that this isn’t easy to do, and it will take a lot of time.

The current shortage is also not helping matters. There’s no way that these plants could try and change the process when they can’t keep up with current demand.

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Robert Giaquinto

Robert has been following and writing about environmental stories for years at GreenGeeks. He believes that highlighting environmentally friendly practices can help promote change in every household.

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