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Semiconductor manufacturing is one of the fastest growing energy-intensive industries in the world. The typical plant has an electricity bill of $1 to 2 million a month - sometimes exceeding salaries and benefits for the workers in them. Climate control and ventilation typically represent 30 to 50 percent of the electricity costs because the huge clean rooms require tremendous amounts of filtered air. These systems offer tremendous savings potential if they are well designed. 

Globally, tens of billions of dollars worth in new chip plants are on the drawing boards, totaling more than millions of square feet of clean-room space. This represents almost $30 billion in present-value electricity costs and a combined electric load of more then 5,000 megawatts and 40 billion kilowatt hours.  

The good news is that energy consumption by a typical chip factory can be cut 40 percent or more, and greenhouse emissions even more dramatically.  

Whoever best uses energy efficiency to lower costs and increase productivity stands to gain a unique competitive advantage. The Pacific Northwest alone, which is home to half of all U.S. semiconductor production, may see some $20 billion in new facilities over the next several years, with a combined electric load in excess of 500 megawatts. But some of the most exciting work in this area is happening outside the United States:  

  • Ranked in the top 10 semiconductor suppliers worldwide, STMicroelectronics is a $4 billion company with 26,000 employees in Europe, Asia, and the United States. The company believes "environmentally-friendly technologies and processes are more efficient, less costly, more reliable and safer." Working with the outstanding consulting firm Supersymmetry, the company made its Singapore chip fabrication plant more than twice as efficient as the typical fabrication plant. From 1994 to 1997, the plant cut energy use by 24 million kilowatt-hours a year, saving $2.2 million and 21,000 tons of heat-trapping carbon dioxide - all with full payback in less than a year. STMicroelectronics has also put together a design for a next generation fabrication plant that reduces carbon dioxide emissions per chip by 75 percent compared to their average plant, at a lower initial cost. That's for a company whose plants are already far more efficient than industry average.  
  • An Amkor/Anan Pilipinas integrated circuit factory outside Manila upgraded lighting, heating, ventilation, and cooling system, cutting energy usage per chip by 60 percent - even as chip production doubled. In 1996, the company wanted to cut electric bills in its 689,000-square-foot plant where 6,000 workers cut silicon wafers into individual chips for customers including IBM, Lucent, and Intel. A major lighting upgrade plus high-efficiency chiller tuned via an advanced control system saved more than $2 million from the annual energy bill.  
  • Near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, U.S.-based Western Digital built the most efficient disc drive factory in the world, cutting energy consumption 44 percent with a one-year payback. These cuts were achieved even though floor space increased by more than 10 percent and a thousand-fold increase in air filtration requirements. The total cost of the efficient design was similar to costs of other bidders who proposed standard designs. 

    In addition to extensive upgrades in the lighting, climate, and other systems, Western Digital installed a state-of-the-art energy management control system designed by Supersymmetry and operating on powerful Silicon Graphics workstations. It stores high-accuracy, real-time data that can be retrieved at one-minute intervals, and generates performance curves of all major mechanical and electrical equipment. That gives the company the ability to benchmark against rated specs. Interactive modeling of pump and fan operations facilitates selection of optimum settings.
  • Siemens Solar Industries, the largest maker of solar-electric cells in the world, grows silicon ingots in their Vancouver, Washington plant. Because of rapid growth in the solar industry, Siemens expects to triple its crystal-growing capacity every few years. It has been working to improvements electric resistance-heated furnaces used to grow single-crystal silicon ingots. Siemens believes it will be able to cut their energy use 60 to 75 percent, reduce the use of expensive argon gas 90 percent, while shortening the crystal growth cycle time by 33 to 50 percent. Company executives say these improvements could be applied to all the furnaces now used to make ingots.