As India sets out to be the next key semiconductor hub, it should strive to make the manufacturing process more efficient and sustainable
Semiconductor fabrication facilities are large, complex entities which require round-the-clock water and power supply along with a seamless supply of materials such as high-grade chemicals, gases, and minerals. Besides the emissions of toxic chemicals and gases, these facilities alone have a massive carbon footprint in addition to the hazardous waste generated which requires safe disposal. Moreover, the processes of this entire operational cycle are also manpower- and machine-intensive with rather low or negligible downtime for both. The wafer (as it is colloquially called) production is time-intensive and involves several processes before the final product is manufactured. Furthermore, the bulk of wafer fabrication facilities all over the world were made operational in the mid/late 1990s and early 2000s. This is an intriguing fact as they were clearly built without factoring in the sustainability quotient. As India embarks on this journey to create these capital-intensive, high technology, large carbon-footprint-intensive fabrication facilities, it can show the world the viability of manufacturing sustainable critical technology. This can encourage the rest of the world to emulate and upgrade/restructure their existing facilities.
With the establishment of the Indian Semiconductor Mission (ISM), the available expertise of a large Indian diaspora engaged in these high-technology activities abroad, and the prowess of Indian policymakers, this aspect can be intricately knitted into the overall context.
The Government of India (GOI) has set course on an ambitious and well-thought-out policy of establishing these facilities, which are critical to nearly all sectors of growth in the country. This endeavour is backed by well-designed policies and planning metrics, which consist of various schemes to attract investments as well as fabrication facilities. With a large number of huge conglomerates showing interest in this sector,
The two focus areas that could augment this important segment of manufacturing are policy and processes. An astute policy is the very soul of every successful endeavour, if incorporated with diligence and futuristic vision. In terms of policy, with the establishment of the Indian Semiconductor Mission (ISM), the available expertise of a large Indian diaspora engaged in these high-technology activities abroad, and the prowess of Indian policymakers, this aspect can be intricately knitted into the overall context. These policies could incorporate skill development, which is an ongoing and critical process at the present juncture with a focus on sustainability. The policies could incorporate defined incentives for innovation and research and development (R&D) in this domain alongside regulatory issues, keeping the sustainability aspects in mind, without restricting the usage of high-end technology.
In terms of processes, a large canvas can be covered with the implementation of technology. In terms of energy requirements, renewable energy needs to be incorporated in these processes. This could further correspond to improving efficiency and storage of the power to accrue a smaller carbon footprint in these facilities.
Incorporating recycling water techniques and sustainable waste management will in itself be the harbinger of change in this manufacturing process.
The renewable energy sector has a huge potential for scaling up and can be done in conjunction with the establishment of semiconductor fabrication facilities. As part of processes, the other areas could increase the usage of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Internet of Things (IoT), and robotics to shorten manufacturing processes in future fabrication facilities, by building responsible supply chains for manufacturing processes with least logistics and a large indigenous content to tide over any natural or geopolitical disruptions. Incorporating recycling water techniques and sustainable waste management will in itself be the harbinger of change in this manufacturing process. Incentives for research in greener materials and adoption of the same is already a work in progress, and this would be a game changer for future chip manufacturing. Emission parameters of toxic gases are another challenge, which can be addressed by decreasing power consumption metrics and utilisation of greener gases. The setting up of fabrication facilities with incorporation of best practices, aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals will be a cornerstone of high technology prowess.
As India strives to become a key “Semiconductor Nation” while taking on the onerous G20 Presidency, a renewed focus on ESG in this niche domain will set an example for the rest of the world. The adoption of prudent policies, specific ESG guidelines for innovative practices by academia, and of these practices by the industry will not only be the correct waypoints to Industry 4.0 but will also ensure a green future powered by Indian chips. SEMI, the industry association serving the global electronics manufacturing and design supply chain has recently formed a Semiconductor Climate Consortium (SCC) with more than 60 founding members, as announced on 1 November 2022. To this end, setting up a committee for ESG under ISM or a designated industry association could be a viable idea to give inputs for the establishment of Indian fabrication facilities. With Chips being designated as the “new oil”, in the current state of geopolitics, with strained supply chains and the anticipated monopolisation of new technologies, sustainability could be the hallmark of the Indian prowess in this arena, which will set the course for the rest to follow.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s).