IBM Implements Silicon Recycling Program

Oct. 30, 2007
IBM has come up with a cleaner way to reuse scrap silicon leftover from the chipmaking process.

IBM has come up with a cleaner way to reuse scrap silicon leftover from the chipmaking process. Its new method of scrubbing Intellectual Property (IP) off semiconductor wafers allows them to be reused or resold to solar panel manufacturers. For IBM, repurposing scrap silicon decreases the need to buy more new wafers to meet manufacturing needs. Salvaged wafers can be used as "monitor" wafers, or wafers that test semiconductor assembly lines. When those wafers reach end-of-life, they can be sold to the solar cell industry, which must meet a growing demand for silicon to make photovoltaic cells. "One of the challenges facing the solar industry is a severe shortage of silicon, which threatens to stall its rapid growth," Charles Bai, chief financial officer of ReneSola, one of China's fastest growing solar energy companies, said in a statement. "This is why we have turned to reclaimed silicon materials sourced primarily from the semiconductor industry to supply the raw material our company needs to manufacture solar panels." Chipmakers typically have no other choice but to throw the wafers away since they contain intellectual property. To prevent leaking trade secrets, most wafers — about 3 million annually — are crushed and sent to landfills or melted down and resold. IBM expects to save $1.5 million by extending the life of the wafers. Currently in place at its Burlington, V.T. facility, the process will soon be implemented at its East Fishkill, N.Y. fab. "IBM's commitment to environmental conservation spans its business, from the repurposing of materials used in semiconductor manufacturing to enabling customers to manage, measure, and run the most power efficient datacenters on the planet," Mike Cadigan, general manager of IBM Semiconductor Solutions, said in a statement. "The engineering ingenuity that IBM has demonstrated in pioneering the wafer-to-solar panel program has generated countless other conservation initiatives in our manufacturing operations."

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