IEEE Spectrum’s June special report on the water-energy nexus reminds us of how little we know about how much clean water is required to enjoy the comforts of the modern age. A single chip making facility can easily consume 10 million liters of fresh water each day—close to the daily requirement of a city with 50 000 residents. But do chip fabs have to use so much of this precious resource?
A startup created by University of Arizona researchers to further develop and market technology that promises to dramatically cut water use by chipmakers recently announced that it is looking to sell its patents. Tucson based Environmental Metrology produces sensor equipment and software that detects, based on changes in electrical impedance, when a silicon wafer has been rinsed clean. Without the sensors, chip makers simply err on the side of caution, knowing that any contaminants left behind on the wafers’ surfaces will lower yields.
The technology’s developers, who claim that it can cut water use in a fab by up to 50 percent, say that companies such as AMD, Intel, Freescale, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, and Texas Instruments have expressed interest. Cutting their water use allows these tech firms to tout their social responsibility bona fides and helps their bottom lines by decreasing the amount of wastewater that they have to process to keep from running afoul of environmental laws.