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Is chip manufacturing sustainable? Not yet, but…

Is chip manufacturing sustainable? Not yet, but...

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Earth Day was April 22, and its usual message—take care of our planet—has been given added urgency by the challenges highlighted in the latest IPCC report. This year, Ars is taking a look at the technologies we normally cover, from cars to chipmaking, and finding out how we can boost their sustainability and minimize their climate impact.

While chips have been in short supply lately, there’s also been growing concern about their environmental impact. Droughts and COVID caused factory (or fab) shutdowns just as the pandemic fueled a surge in demand for medical devices, tele-everything, and all the other gadgets to help people stay productive and less isolated. But the demand for chips has been growing for some time, making it important to ask whether meeting these demands is compatible with climate and sustainability goals.

The answer is that it’s a work in progress. Semiconductor manufacturers are building new facilities in Taiwan, the US, Europe, and elsewhere, providing an opportunity for the industry to incorporate sustainability from the very start. Doing so will help leading chip manufacturers meet voluntary pledges, such as reaching net-zero emissions by 2040 and 2050. These promises are encouraging, but they’re still shy of the urgent action needed, according to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. And pledging doesn’t guarantee delivery—but contributions from researchers, external regulators, and consumers can help with that.

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