‘Green’ light shines on SEMICON West


By Hank Hogan

It wasn’t springtime but this year’s SEMICON West was nonetheless green. The signs included a push toward recycling, conservation, and solar power. The latter was especially evident, since Intersolar North America ran concurrently with SEMICON West for the first time this year. Intersolar took over the third floor of one hall while SEMICON West sprawled across the rest of San Francisco’s Moscone Center.

Of course, all of these green trends were driven by a desire for that other form of green. During a panel discussion at the beginning of the show, Paula Mints, principal analyst for the photovoltaic service market research program at Navigant Consulting (Palo Alto, CA), pointed out that the solar industry has been expanding rapidly for a long time. “The photovoltaic industry has grown at a compound annual growth rate of 34 percent for the past 30 years,” she announced.

That trend should continue for years to come. The photovoltaic market is in the tens of billions of dollars but only accounts for a fraction of a percent of the electricity generated worldwide.

The potential of solar is attracting attention. Applied Materials formed a business unit to service the industry, but it’s not the only company to do so. Air Liquide, for example, has ALUX, a range of turnkey offerings that includes supply and purification of materials, as well as abatement of waste. It’s all intended to help photovoltaic manufacturers scale up production, and the suite of services includes those designed to boost module efficiency and yield.

“We also can do failure analysis to pinpoint component problems,” said Hugh Gotts, director of research and development of Air Liquide???Balazs Analytical Services (Fremont, CA).

The green emphasis wasn’t confined to photovoltaics. In a talk about the challenges of a green semiconductor fab, James Beasley, environmental safety and health technology manager at ISMI (Austin, TX), noted that two or so years ago there was a single semiconductor project seeking a rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED).

That project, the Texas Instruments (Dallas, TX) RFAB, was a success. Among its innovations was the use of natural and smart lighting as well as solar water heating. The outcome of that first project is one of the reasons why LEED is being pursued by
the industry.

The other reason, again, may be cost savings. In his presentation, Beasley noted that wafer fabs consume as much electricity yearly as do roughly 13,500 typical U.S. homes. Water-wise, a fab is equivalent to about 4,000 homes. Consequently, cutting water and electricity usage while going green can make business as well as environmental sense.

As for recycling, that too can make money. Pall Corp. (East Hills, NY) presented a system that concentrates silicon out of a waste stream, enabling reuse and resale. Air Products and Chemicals (Allentown, PA) featured a new, on-site xenon recovery service, a potential material and money saver.

In addition to the green hue at SEMICON West, traditional contamination control concerns and solutions were present. Entegris (Chaska, MN), for example, debuted a number of filtration products. Matheson Tri-Gas (Basking Ridge, NJ) touted its PICO-TRAP ultra-purification system, which is designed to remove volatile metal impurities and moisture from critical process gases.

Brian Tallman of cable supplier W.L. Gore & Associates (Elkton, MD) said the company recently introduced a line of cleanroom flat cables that are 300 mm wide, twice the size of previous offerings. This was done, he said, to reduce contaminants. “These cables are very flexible and enable flat cables to be stacked on top of each other and slide smoothly without generating particles.”