Intel's green dream is chips without any dips in Mother Nature's health

Sustainability Summit pushes industry partners to reduce their environmental impact, including harmful chemicals

Intel is seeking alternatives to harmful chemicals that the electronics industry has used for decades, amid growing concerns about the potentially negative impacts on the environment and human health.

The chipmaking biz is again pushing the environmental bandwagon, committing to become the "industry's most sustainable foundry" and joining with other tech outfits to develop an industry-wide net zero roadmap.

The calls for captains of industry to be better corporate citizens follows the inaugural global Intel Sustainability Summit last week, where 140 organizations came together in a united effort to reduce their combined environmental impact across the semiconductor supply chain.

For chipmakers like Intel, that isn't just about trying to reduce energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, but also addressing water consumption and the use of harsh chemicals involved in manufacturing semiconductors.

Execs at Intel are encouraging suppliers and others in the industry to accelerate the replacement of remaining perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), for example. These are synthetic chemicals that can leak into the soil, water, and air, and some are worried about their public health impact.

Keyvan Esfarjani, EVP and general manager of Foundry Manufacturing and Supply Chain at Intel, says the push for global emission reduction and research into green chemistry are both reaching pivotal points. This requires collaboration and standardized practices across the semiconductor supply chain, he added.

"Intel is committed to becoming the industry's most sustainable foundry, and supporting others to become more sustainable. And with leadership comes responsibility," said Esfarjani.

That means finding alternatives to chemicals the electronics industry has been using for decades, he added.

As far as greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions go, Intel says that about 40 percent of organizations at its summit have made net zero commitments, and only 15 percent have published climate transition action plans.

The participants at the event "charted plans" to move the industry forward, and 90 percent of respondents to an on-site survey committed to develop an industry-wide net zero roadmap by 2025, Intel says.

The chipmaker published its own Climate Transition Action Plan last year, offering a roadmap for how it intends to achieve the goals it has already set itself, such as reaching net zero for GHG emissions across global operations by 2040, and using entirely renewable electricity by 2030.

That didn't stop Greenpeace from pointing the finger at Intel and other global electronics firms for not doing enough. The environmental campaign group warned that Intel continues to rely heavily on low-impact procurement methods to achieve its goal, such as renewable energy certificates (RECs). These are often criticized because companies that buy them are seen to be using these as an excuse to not invest in actual wind or solar power.

Intel claims it is improving transparency and measurement consistency through support for the Product Attribute to Impact Algorithm (PAIA) – billed as a way to measure a company's environmental footprint, along with other industry efforts to advance public reporting of GHG emissions.

Water use in the tech industry is also a concern, with a report from S&P Global earlier this year indicating increased usage at chipmaking facilities, both in absolute terms and on a per-unit basis as production processes become more advanced. Fabrication plants use ultrapure water to rinse semiconductor wafers between each process step, and more advanced production processes have more of these steps.

Esfarjani didn't say much about that, other than mentioning Intel's net-positive water commitment, which is designed to conserve as much as possible and fund water projects that will restore more freshwater than the chipmaker consumes to local water sources.

Looking beyond chipmaking, the tech industry is also seeing a rise in energy consumption because of the demands of AI, which could lead to rising GHG emissions, while cooling AI infrastructure is also placing further demands on water supplies. ®

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