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Future Summits 2022: imec and partners target net-zero emissions for chip-making

18 May 2022

Research center’s “sustainable program” includes the likes of ASML, Apple and Microsoft to reduce sector’s environmental impact.

by Matthew Peach in Leuven

This week, at Future Summits 2022, imec, announced that its Sustainable Semiconductor Technologies and Systems research program has brought together key players in the semiconductor manufacturing industry – including the likes of Apple and Microsoft, ASML, and Tokyo Electron – in an effort to cut the sector’s environmental impact.

The SSTS program was set up in 2021 as part of imec’s sustainability efforts to support the semiconductor industry reducing its carbon footprint. The addition of these new partners, said imec, will enable “a holistic approach”, which leverages imec’s expertise and knowledge in this field.

imec’s statement said, “The semiconductor industry is booming with unprecedented demands. As an integral part of our smart portable devices, IoT systems and compute infrastructure, chips are embedded in our everyday life.

“Semiconductor manufacturing, however, comes at a price. It requires large amounts of energy and water and creates hazardous waste. To tackle this problem, the entire supply chain needs to commit, and an ecosystem approach will be key.”

While system and fabless companies are already investing in decarbonizing their supply chain and products, committing to be carbon neutral by 2030 or 2040, they typically lack accurate insight into the contribution of chip manufacturing of future technologies as there is limited life cycle analysis data available.

With its SSTS program, imec is calling upon the whole semiconductor value chain to join forces to cut back on the semiconductor industry’s environmental footprint. The program combines imec’s partner ecosystem, insights in processing technology, infrastructure, and machinery to provide partners across the industry.

Apple was the first public partner to join hands with imec on the SSTS program last year. Now additional major system companies like Microsoft have joined the program, which assesses the environmental impact of new technologies, identifies high-impact problems and defines greener semiconductor manufacturing solutions.

imec’s Lars-Ace Ragnarsson, Program Director of SSTS, commented, “Today there is a data gap concerning the environmental footprint of the fabrication of semiconductor integrated circuits for more advanced technologies.

“That’s why we’re assessing the environmental impact in a first step so we can make informed choices when we move to the next technology generations. Equipment, material and tool suppliers are key in the early phase plans; they can for example create more environmentally friendly processes and tools to solve high-impact problems in these future technologies.

“We are also talking to foundries to help verify and benchmark the results. By engaging with the entire semiconductor value chain in this way, our SSTS program can maximize its impact,” he said.

Lithium battery developer Solithor closes €10M funding

Solithor, a new spin-off company from imec, which is developing solid-state lithium battery cell technology, announced at this week’s Future Summits meeting, that it has raised €10.00 million ($10.54 M) in a seed investment round led by imec.xpand supported by a strong investment syndicate including LRM, Nuhma and FPIM.

The money will be used to develop the technology required to enable further electrification of our transport industry with solutions that address current issues in autonomy, performance, longevity and safety.

Solid-state batteries intend to bring the performance of classical battery systems to the next level in terms of energy density, charging speed, weight and volume. imec noted that “their adoption has not taken off so far due to significant manufacturability hurdles.”

Huw Hampson-Jones, founder and CEO of Solithor, told a press meeting at Future Summits at imec’s headquarters in Leven, Belgium, “Our technology is based on breakthrough chemistry and components – the nano-Solid Composite Electrolyte and the nano-anode, developed within the EnergyVille labs and patented by imec.

“This revolutionary technology will improve energy density, charging speeds and crucially, increase safety and will be far easier to manufacture than other solid-state batteries. The Research and Development program will be led by Founder and Chief Technology Officer, Dr Fanny Bardé, a seasoned expert in battery technology, together with imec’s R&D teams.”

Olivier Rousseaux, Director Venture Development at imec, said, “We are delighted to see Solithor bringing some of our most promising technologies to the market. The company is on a path to unleash the great potential of this technology for the society: contribute to the reduction of our carbon footprint through further electrification of our transport, and also contribute to Europe’s strategic positioning and independence in the energy sector.”

CeNing Optics Co LtdLaCroix Precision OpticsMad City Labs, Inc.LASEROPTIK GmbHHyperion OpticsUniverse Kogaku America Inc.Iridian Spectral Technologies
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