News

# IBM Unveils Process To Turn Waste Into Solar Energy

October 31, 2007 by Jeff Shepard

IBM announced what it describes as an innovative new semiconductor wafer reclamation process pioneered at its Burlington, Vermont manufacturing facility. The new process uses a specialized pattern removal technique to repurpose scrap semiconductor wafers – thin discs of silicon material used to imprint patterns that make finished semiconductor chips for computers, mobile phones, video games, and other consumer electronics – to a form used to manufacture silicon-based solar panels.

Through this new reclamation process IBM claims that it is now able to more efficiently remove the intellectual property from the wafer surface, making these wafers available either for reuse in internal manufacturing calibration as "monitor wafers" or for sale to the solar cell industry, which must meet a growing demand for the same silicon material to produce photovoltaic cells for solar panels. IBM intends to provide details of the new process to the broader semiconductor manufacturing industry. It is currently in use the Burlington facility and in the process of being implemented at IBM’s East Fishkill, New York, semiconductor fabrication plant.

The new wafer reclamation process produces monitor wafers from scrap product wafers - generating an overall energy savings of up to 90% because repurposing scrap means that IBM no longer has to procure the usual volume of net new wafers to meet manufacturing needs. When monitors wafers reach end of life they are sold to the solar industry. Depending on how a specific solar cell manufacturer chooses to process a batch of reclaimed wafers - they could save between 30 – 90% of the energy that they would have needed if they’d used a new silicon material source. These estimated energy savings translate into an overall reduction of the carbon footprint – the measure of the total amount of CO2 and other greenhouse gases emitted over the full life cycle of a product or service – for both the Semiconductor and Solar industries.

The program resulted in reduced spending on monitor wafers and increased efficiency in IBM’s wafer reclaim program. For the IBM Burlington site, the annual savings in 2006 were more than half-a-million dollars. The projected ongoing annual savings for 2007 is nearly $1.5 million and the one-time savings for reclaiming stockpiled wafers is estimated to be more than$1.5 million. Located ten miles from Burlington in Essex Junction, Vermont, the campus employs some 5,600 people on 750 acres in more than 20 major buildings – with a primary focus on the development, manufacture and testing of semiconductors.