EHS&S Challenges and Opportunities in the Semiconductor Industry

Insights from SESHA’s 46th Annual Symposium
May 9, 2024 1:00 PM ET
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The week of April 22nd, 2024, Antea Group participated in SESHA’s 46th Annual Symposium in Phoenix, Arizona. SESHA was founded in 1978 and promotes “the effective communication of safety, health, and environmental information to the high technology and associated industries.”

The Annual Symposium kicked off the event with Bootcamps for environmental, safety and health (ESH) professionals entering the high tech ESH field to advanced workshop sessions and learning opportunities lead by industry technical experts, as well as networking opportunities. In case you missed it, here are some key takeaways.

Investment in the Semiconductor Industry

The CHIPS Act, signed into law in August 2022, is a U.S. federal law enacted to bolster the competitiveness of the United States in semiconductor manufacturing, research, and development. This act is spurring a large monetary investment in the semiconductor manufacturing industry in the US.

In fact, it provides approximately $52 billion in funding. This includes $39 billion in financial incentives such as grants and loans for semiconductor manufacturing plants. There's also an investment tax credit for semiconductor equipment or manufacturing facility investments, estimated to be worth $24 billion.

The act also allocates funding towards semiconductor research, design, and development. This aims to advance semiconductor technology and ensure the U.S. remains at the forefront of tech innovation. By increasing domestic production of semiconductors, the CHIPS Act aims to reduce the U.S.'s reliance on foreign chip manufacturing, which is considered a national security priority.

The hope is that more semiconductor companies will ramp up their investments in the US, leading to new production facilities being built and existing facilities being upgraded.

3 Key Challenges Facing the Semiconductor Industry

Among this surge in money and investment, the semiconductor industry faces challenges. After SESHA, here are three key challenges worth noting for semiconductor manufacturers:

1. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reporting

Due to the ever-changing ESG regulatory landscape, including recent legislation passing in the EU and stateside with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) climate disclosure rules, regulatory challenges are only increasing. While this is certainly a struggle across many different industries, the semiconductor industry has unique struggles due to the GHGs they use.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the semiconductor industry primarily arise from the use of potent GHGs in manufacturing processes, such as perfluorocarbons (PFCs), sulfur hexafluoride (SF6), and nitrogen trifluoride (NF3). The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) mandates that facilities emitting above certain thresholds report their emissions annually. This reporting includes direct emissions (Scope 1) and indirect emissions from purchased electricity (Scope 2). However, Scope 3 emissions, which cover all other indirect emissions not covered under Scope 2, such as those from purchased goods and services, business travel, and waste disposal, are increasingly under scrutiny.

For semiconductor companies, the complexity of calculating Scope 3 emissions poses a significant challenge. These emissions are often not directly controllable but reflect the broader value chain impact. As regulations tighten and expand to incorporate broader emission sources, semiconductor companies find themselves in a race to enhance their reporting mechanisms and ensure compliance.

2. PFAS in the Semiconductor Industry

The EPA started the first few months of 2024 by passing quite a few restrictions and regulations on PFAS. However, what many don’t realize is that PFAS are a necessary component in semiconductor manufacturing. According to the Semiconductor Industry Association PFAS Consortium, currently, “no known alternatives exist for many of the industry’s uses of fluorocarbons. Given its carbon-fluorine chemistry, PFAS-containing materials offer a unique set of surface tension, stability and chemical compatibility that many semiconductor applications require.”

The fear within the industry is stark: a complete ban on PFAS could critically damage semiconductor manufacturing. Some within the industry have moved their focus to advocating for exceptions for these new PFAS regulations where no viable alternatives exist. They are also working to ensure that regulations are informed by an understanding of the technical and economic realities of semiconductor production.

So, while bans and restrictions on PFAS seem positive at face-value, the threat to the semiconductor industry is real, and getting that education from industry experts to government officials is ongoing.

3. Resource Conservation: Energy, Water, Resource and Waste Management

Semiconductor manufacturing is resource-intensive, requiring significant quantities of water, energy, and resource management with the goal of eliminating or reducing waste of these resources. In addition, as semiconductor technology advances, the devices become smaller and more complex, requiring even greater precision and control in the manufacturing process. This leads to increasing demands for energy and materials to achieve the higher standards required by newer technologies.

As competition for these resources intensifies, it’s important for companies to prioritize sustainability and efficiency to reduce their environmental impacts and ensure long-term viability. Developing a strong resource management plan can help companies track their resource usage and implement reduction practices.  

Bringing it all Together

The SESHA 46th Annual Symposium provided invaluable insights into the current and emerging challenges faced by the semiconductor industry. As the industry navigates the above challenges, strategic planning and proactive engagement with regulatory bodies will be key. This symposium underscored the critical need for ongoing education, collaboration, and adaptation within the industry, highlighting the essential role that EHS professionals play in shaping its trajectory.

Looking for support navigating the EHS&S challenges in the semiconductor industry? Let's connect!