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October 30, 2007

IBM's New Process to Turn Waste into Solar Energy

By Tim Gray, TMCnet Web Editor

IBM (News - Alert) has developed a cleaner method for recycling silicon wafers that are often wasted during computer chip manufacturing, and is now converting them into material used to make solar panels, the company said.

In order for  microprocessors and other computer chips to be made, discs of silicon known as wafers get circuitry imprinted on them and then are cut into hundreds of pieces that become the chips. However, because chips have to be essentially flawless, imperfect portions or even the entire wafers sometimes get discarded.

The Armonk, N.Y.-based company has developed a process for repurposing the “scrap silicon wafers” from its chip manufacturing operations for use in energy-producing solar panels.

“IBM’s commitment to environmental conservation spans its business, from the re-purposing of materials used in semiconductor manufacturing to enabling customers to manage, measure, and run the most power efficient datacenters on the planet," said Mike Cadigan, general manager at IBM Semiconductor Solutions.

Through this new process IBM says it can is now 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.

"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," said Cadigan.

The process produces monitor wafers from scrap product wafers - generating an overall energy savings of up to 90 percent because repurposing scrap means that IBM no longer has to procure the usual volume of net new wafers to meet manufacturing needs.

IBM intends said it will provide details of the new process to the broader semiconductor manufacturing industry.

Tim Gray is a Web Editor for TMCnet, covering news in the IP communications, call center and customer relationship management industries. To see more of his articles, please visit Tim Gray’s columnist page.


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