Apple joins imec's SSTS research programme

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Imec, the research and innovation hub in nanoelectronics and digital technologies, has announced that Apple has joined its Sustainable Semiconductor Technologies and Systems (SSTS) research programme.

The SSTS programme is the first initiative from across the IC value chain to look at the environmental impact of choices made at chip technology’s definition phase. Using concrete and reliable models, and detailed (carbon) footprint analyses, the programme will help the IC-making industry cut back on its ecological footprint – as part of the global fight against climate change, resources depletion and pollution.

IC technology is a fundamental enabler and supports cutting-edge innovations such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and cloud computing applications. But it is also an essential component of countless ‘everyday’ objects from cars and washing machines to smartphones.

Over the years, more energy-efficient generations of chips has made smart devices progressively more sustainable. By contrast, the world’s growing dependence on semiconductor technology and its intricate production processes have largely added to the IC-making industry’s own ecological footprint; a footprint not only characterized by high energy consumption and the use of chemicals, scarce materials, and ultrapure water – but also by the emission of greenhouse gases such as NF3.

“Many systems companies are carbon neutral today for their corporate footprints and have expressed the ambition to have their entire carbon footprint to net zero by 2030. They are very committed to achieving that goal, yet often lack the data to decipher the IC part end-to-end. That is where imec comes in. We have that data, and are ready to support the industry with all necessary insights, tools, instruments and numbers,” said Luc Van den hove, CEO of imec.

“Moreover, companies realise they can only become carbon neutral if their whole supply chain follows suit. So, that is the snowball effect we want to create – together with Apple: I would like to call upon the whole semiconductor value chain not to stand at the side, but to act as one and to join forces with us to cut back the entire semiconductor industry’s ecological footprint,” he added.

Research has shown, for instance, that close to 75% of a mobile device’s CO2 emissions can be attributed to its fabrication – with almost half of that resulting from the underlying IC manufacturing. So far, there hasn't been a holistic approach to reducing the IC-making industry’s emissions.

“That is why imec is launching its Sustainable Semiconductor Technologies and Systems (SSTS) research programme,” explained Luc Van den hove. “It is a programme drawing on our widely acclaimed fab expertise. It combines imec’s insights in infrastructure, technology and machinery to help the complete IC value chain reduce its ecological footprint. Our aim is to inform partners of the environmental impact of certain choices made at chip technology’s definition phase. That holistic view – consisting of concrete and reliable models, and detailed (carbon) footprint analyses – is what sets our SSTS program apart.”