3D InCites Podcast

Urban Mining, EV Battery Recycling, and Other Semiconductor Sustainability Issues: A Conversation with Dean Freeman and Julia Goldstein

May 20, 2021 Francoise von Trapp Season 1 Episode 2
3D InCites Podcast
Urban Mining, EV Battery Recycling, and Other Semiconductor Sustainability Issues: A Conversation with Dean Freeman and Julia Goldstein
Chapters
3D InCites Podcast
Urban Mining, EV Battery Recycling, and Other Semiconductor Sustainability Issues: A Conversation with Dean Freeman and Julia Goldstein
May 20, 2021 Season 1 Episode 2
Francoise von Trapp

Today we are talking about the importance of sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing, which you may have noticed is a really hot topic right now. And it's also one we feel really strongly about because of its impact on the future of society.

Our guests today are Dean Freeman, who has been blogging about it for the past few months and Julia Goldstein, who just joined us as a regular blogger. We're also joined by Martijn Pierik, CEO of our sponsor, Kiterocket.
In the beginning, we focus on the impact that our electronic devices have on the e-waste issue and what can be done about it. And then we talk about the bigger picture of sustainably manufacturing these devices.

Dean has more than 36 years of experience in semiconductor manufacturing materials. Over the course of his career, he's also been responsible for every aspect of the semiconductor manufacturing process. You may know him best for his years as a market analyst at Gartner. And he is currently a consultant and blogging for 3D InCites.

Julia has her Ph.D. in material science and began her career as an engineer in the advanced packaging space. She switched gears to become a technical writer for the industry in the early 2000s.  She switched gears to become a technical writer for the industry in the early 2000s. Her passion for materials led to her concern about the negative impact some of them have on the earth. She is the author of the book, Material Value, More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Manufacturing of Everything from Cell phones to Cleaning Products. She also recently joined the blogging team.

Contact Today’s Speakers

Dean Freeman: [email protected]

Julia Goldstein:  [email protected]

Martijn Pierik – [email protected]

If you're interested in reading Julia's book, Material Values, you can find it on her website,  www.juliagoldsteinauthor.com It's also available on Amazon. 

 Sponsor

Today's podcast is sponsored by Kiterocket, a full-service PR and marketing agency that specializes in B2B marketing for companies that serve the semiconductor and sustainability industries. Learn more about them at kiterocket.com.

 

Show Notes Transcript

Today we are talking about the importance of sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing, which you may have noticed is a really hot topic right now. And it's also one we feel really strongly about because of its impact on the future of society.

Our guests today are Dean Freeman, who has been blogging about it for the past few months and Julia Goldstein, who just joined us as a regular blogger. We're also joined by Martijn Pierik, CEO of our sponsor, Kiterocket.
In the beginning, we focus on the impact that our electronic devices have on the e-waste issue and what can be done about it. And then we talk about the bigger picture of sustainably manufacturing these devices.

Dean has more than 36 years of experience in semiconductor manufacturing materials. Over the course of his career, he's also been responsible for every aspect of the semiconductor manufacturing process. You may know him best for his years as a market analyst at Gartner. And he is currently a consultant and blogging for 3D InCites.

Julia has her Ph.D. in material science and began her career as an engineer in the advanced packaging space. She switched gears to become a technical writer for the industry in the early 2000s.  She switched gears to become a technical writer for the industry in the early 2000s. Her passion for materials led to her concern about the negative impact some of them have on the earth. She is the author of the book, Material Value, More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Manufacturing of Everything from Cell phones to Cleaning Products. She also recently joined the blogging team.

Contact Today’s Speakers

Dean Freeman: [email protected]

Julia Goldstein:  [email protected]

Martijn Pierik – [email protected]

If you're interested in reading Julia's book, Material Values, you can find it on her website,  www.juliagoldsteinauthor.com It's also available on Amazon. 

 Sponsor

Today's podcast is sponsored by Kiterocket, a full-service PR and marketing agency that specializes in B2B marketing for companies that serve the semiconductor and sustainability industries. Learn more about them at kiterocket.com.

 

Françoise:

Hi there, I'm Francoise von Trapp, and this is the 3D InCites Podcast. Today we are talking about the importance of sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing, which you may have noticed is a really hot topic right now. And it's also one we feel really strongly about because of its impact on the future of society. Dean Freeman has been blogging about it for the past few months and Julia Goldstein just joined us as a regular blogger. She's g oing t o focus on helping you better understand what you need to put in place at your company to become more sustainable. So to get this going, I got together with Dean and Julia and Martijn Pierik, who is my business partner at 3D InCites and CEO of Kiterocket. We wanted to brainstorm some key areas and think about ideas for future podcasts. And what happened was we had this really c ool conversation that we decided to turn into this second episode of the 3D InCites podcast. In the beginning, we're going to focus on the impact that our electronic devices have on the e -waste issue and what can be done about it. And then we talk about the bigger picture of sustainably manufacturing these devices. First, a little background. Dean has more than 36 years of experience in semiconductor manufacturing materials. And he has the distinction of working, not only both in a fab and for equipment manufacturers, he's also been responsible for every aspect of the semiconductor manufacturing process. You may know him best for his years as market analyst at Gartner. And he is currently a consultant and blogging for 3D InCites. U m, now Julia has her PhD in m aterial science and began her career as an engineer in the advanced packaging space. She switched gears to become a technical writer for the industry in the early 2000s. And her passion for materials led to her concern about the negative impact some of them have on the e arth. THis ultimately led her to write Material Value, More Sustainable, Less Wasteful Manufacturing of Everything from Cell phones to Cleaning Products, We are super excited to have her join our team. Thanks for joining us today. I'm pretty excited to have this conversation.

Dean:

It's great to be here. Thank you so much for the invitation.

Julia:

Same here. I'm glad to be part of this and help spread the message of sustainability.

Martijn:

I'm happy to be part of things. Thank you for having me.

Françoise:

I'd like to start with you, Julia, because I just listened to your presentation, consumer electronics and the circular economy. So I'm thinking about, um, e-waste and urban mining and the idea that this could be part of the solution to the rare earth minerals issue that Dean discussed in his blog post. So tell me, does it cost more to mine minerals from ewaste, or mine them fresh?

Julia:

It doesn't. Well actually, to some degree, it depends on the mineral. So for gold, it costs less, hence the idea of how much gold, right? How , you know, a thousand phones or how many tons of ore . So that's part of why gold is so expensive. It's because you've got to mine so many tons of, ore to get a tiny amount of gold. So it's actually less expensive. Now the issue is not all the metals have that same level of economic value. The thing to do is to increase the supply. The problem is it's sort of like a volume thing, right? There's a huge potential to increase the number of devices that are getting sent for e-waste recycling. And so if there's a steady flow and there's a market and the companies that are making this stuff understand that they can buy recycled metals at pretty much probably the same price as Virgin metals. Again, I don't know all the exact details of how the pricing would end up being on all the different specific metals. If you find ways to incent the recovery, you can make it happen. One of the examples is the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which didn't happen. But that's a different story. Back in 2019, when they had every intention of holding the Olympics in Tokyo, they did a drive to collect old phones and they got something like 5 million of them. And it was enough to make all of the metals for the athletes. It was way more than they needed .

Françoise:

Oh, that's so cool.

Julia:

It's so cool. So they had this reason like, Oh, look, here's a kiosk dump your old phone in here. We'll recycle it. And we'll make metals for the Olympic athletes. Now I'm aware that the level of purity that's required for those is not the same as for electronics, but you're going to have all the processing you've got to do, or even more processing. If you're talking about mined metals.

Françoise:

Part of your talk was very interesting to me, was increasing the lifetime of a product of an electronic device rather than, you know, getting one with the latest bells and whistles every year, and how that's one way we can help reduce, reuse, recycle. But how is that going to benefit companies who actually depend on selling that next generation product? How are you are you going to get buy-in from them?

Julia:

Well, that is part of the problem because that's been the strategy, the planned obsolescence. It's not just the electronics industry, but that's really today. That's the place where it's really happening. I mean, there's also fashion, but that's a whole different story. So they're going to want to keep selling new devices to people. Is there a way to change that growth at all costs approach? That's a tough one.

Françoise:

Wouldn't that be consumer-driven though?

Julia:

That's the thing, if there's not the demand, right? So I think they've set it up with this, like, Ooh, look, new, new, new, shiny, get it. You gotta get it because it has blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, whatever. Or they just set up this big,...you want to be trendy... you want to have the latest greatest because you're not one of the cool kids. If your phone is five years old and that's maybe more four generations that are younger than we are, I mean, consumer pressure can move an industry.

Martijn:

Besides the fact that there's a lot of this drive to having the latest and greatest and having these cycles of two to three year replacement or less, there's also the other side of the coin is the quality of products The drive to get things cheaper and cheaper, things are made of cheaper materials, a lot of plastics and a lot of actually very bad materials that make products just not last longer than a few years, whereas they used to be made out of more mechanical structures with better structural integrity, you know, higher quality materials that would last a long time.

Julia:

Oh yeah. There's, there's no need to worry about - little piece is going to break off because, we're going to want the person to buy a new one in a year or two anyway. So why should we design it so that it's more rugged?

Françoise:

However, the prices are going up so much on devices that have much more compute packed into them. Like the iPhone 12 - the cost to the consumer. It's like buying a car. They're putting it on a payment plan. So you can pay $10 a month for the next three or four years. So that sort of extends the life of that product. They don't want to replace it before they're done paying for it. Or do they not even care? I mean, it seems like going towards the consumer is one way to slow down the next generation device manufacturer .

Dean:

I think the new software upgrade is compatible with some of the 6's (iPhone 6), but it slows it down. And if you've got one of the old where you've got just 16 megabits of memory in there, you can't have any other storage on it once you get the latest version on. So it kind of forces you into the next , next model

Martijn:

But there is very, very little effort still from the consumer side or any consumer advocacy groups to put pressure on companies like that to stop doing that. It started with the first iPad, right? At some point they wanted to push the new iPad, but people weren't really replacing iPads as fast as iPhones. So they just started upgrading and upgrading until the thing just didn't work. Not the apps would work anymore. You're forced to buy one, even though the thing works just fine for all the purposes that we used to have and the consumers were not necessarily happy about it, but, you know, they were kind of forced because they didn't have a choice.

Julia:

If we could get the industry to embrace e-waste recycling. I mean, that's maybe a more practical thing than, Oh, we want you to only release a device every five years because they're , they're not going to respond to all to that idea.

Dean:

But at least the computer makers.... I think the last time I went and bought something at Best Buy, I had to pay a recycling fee...

Julia:

Because the California e-waste rules are different than the rules in most other states.

Dean:

Well , well I saw blurb in one of my, one of my posts that I think only 45% of e-waste is being recycled right now.

Julia:

I've heard 20%

:

So yeah, that does surprise me.

Françoise:

So what an opportunity for a new segment of the industry and new companies to specialize in recycling.

Julia:

And there are those companies ! And also for the electronics manufacturers to partner with those companies and to encourage their customers to turn in their old devices, return their old devices. And then they, the electronics manufacturer has an agreement with an e-waste processor. They send the devices and then maybe they send a large volume, they're giving those folks business and then they buy back the metals and other materials from them to make new devices. And then the mining industry suffers, but you know what that somebody has got to, sorry!

Martijn:

But where one industry suffers a new industry is born, right?

Julia:

Yeah, absolutely. And people can shift and people, companies can even shift their priorities. I mean, definitely we see that right with oil and gas companies saying, Oh yes, we now embrace renewables. People can retrain and use their skills in other industries.

Françoise:

So separate, but related to this is Dean's recent blog post on rare earth minerals when he talks about the issues with mining, lithium and cobalt, which are used in the batteries for electric vehicles. And which makes me think, okay, so electric vehicles are supposed to solve some of the greenhouse gas emissions issues, but then to build those cars, and to put all of those semiconductor components in and to put batteries in, we're creating another issue. So how do we, how do we then, so then we have to consider how to use sustainably manufactured electric vehicles to get the full benefit of the carbon emissions in greenhouse gases .

Dean:

Yes . It's interesting when I was doing the research on that, there are a multitude of startups doing , uh, lithium and cobalt recycling. So they're taking those, taking those batteries and they're taking those , motors and repurposing those metals. Now it's in its infancy. So we'll have to see how well it goes. Uh , b ut you know, it's, better than some of the mining alternatives that are out there and it can also can create, depending on the number of batteries get collected and how they, how they do it. A self-sufficient self-sufficiency and lithium and cobalt that the U S d oesn't have, because right now the us h as only one cobalt might open. They're looking for another one But there are multiple sites that are saying, do we want to still be doing lithium? and then letting China and Australia, b e the two dominant sources of that metal, w orldwide. So it'll be interesting to see how things transition. It would be interesting to see what happened, if Tesla was made more aware of the issues, what some of the comments they might have with respect to both, c obalt, as well as lithium might be.

Julia:

I know Umicore has done recycling of cobalt for a long time. The thing with lithium recycling is that the lithium wasn't as economically valuable. So again, it's the processing of it. And was it cheaper to just get more lithium? And that's a different thing - that's like from salt mines and lithium is not listed as a conflict mineral, as far as I know , although cobalt was added a few years ago.

Dean:

Yeah. Cobalt because most of the cobalt mines are in Africa. Uh, that's why it's there. And then also from a lithium perspective, it's more of...where are we getting up from? And right now, 80 to 90% of it runs through China. And so with the current supply chain they're looking at... there is a mine in Nevada, there's a mine they want to open in West Texas. You've got the salts from South Africa, South America that they mine, , there's a mine that was going to go into Greenland. That was going to be half owned by the Chinese and half on by the Australians. China is trying to processes 90% of the lithium. So if you mine it, you ship on a ship over to China, they process it and put it on a ship back over. Uh, so that was another part of the process. It was pretty interesting.

Martijn:

So are you familiar with , uh, what companies like quantum scape are doing at the moment with solid state batteries?

Dean:

I'm trying to remember the name of the companies that are working on it. I have to go back and look, there's a startup that has like three or four plants in the U S there's another guy that used to be, I think he was an executive at Tesla. It's got a plant over here in Carson City, Nevada where they're collecting and then starting a recycling process. Both of those companies are pretty much in startup mode. Uh, so it's going to be, and as Julia said, it's a matter of the economics. Is it cheaper to just buy the raw materials or is it cheaper to recycle? And the other question is then you start to get into, u m, u h, Oh, I'm trying to remember the word I want right now, part of, corporate do-goodness with respect to the environment. Do you set up and manage a recycling plant, even though it may not be as economical as it might be to buy the raw materials?

Julia:

I believe another good possibility there is secondary markets. Meaning once the batteries are not good enough to recharge vehicles, there's still a possibility in energy storage, meaning the batteries are not totally dead, but there might be ways to sort of extend their life by using them for energy storage applications and then eventually recycling them. I don't know. I mean, I haven't delved deeply into what's happening in that kind of area lately.

Dean:

It starts to get dicey. You can refresh the cathode or anode. I don't remember which one and they get a secondary life out of it. In the work I'm following with respect to energy storage batteries are just starting to emerge. They've been mostly using water pumping , still, but you're getting the batteries now more for , peak utilization . So you only need three to five hours out of them. Versus 13 to 14... Hawaii has just started a project where I think they get 15 hours storage and release and other battery system, which is something to be applauded because usually batteries are only good for about three to five hours. So great leaps have been made, but those have slightly different technologies than what you're using in the automobile aspect from a discharge perspective. And so therein lie the crux of the problem. You would have to repurpose the battery to make sure that it discharges at the correct rate and can hold the storage rates long enough for it to be shifted to the new industry. And then you've got the question that we brought up in the first place is what are the economics of it? Is it cheaper to buy a brand new battery or is it cheaper to repurpose one?

Julia:

Yeah. And I mean, some of these things you've got to look in the long-term because I think a lot of times they look at the immediate upfront cost of something. And if you look at the big, picture more l ong-term t hen there might be a way to say, okay, yes, it's g oing t o cost more right now, but over the next five years, we can justify that. And there's of course the environmental benefit and this urgent need to do something, right?

Dean:

I think part of the key is selling that environmental benefit. As you know, I think in certain areas, California being one of them , the East coast being another one. those environmental stories can be, can be sold. So to speak. When you start to get more into the Midwest... Texas, Louisiana,...you then start to get... maybe yes, maybe...

Julia:

.. the actual Midwest, if you're talking about like Chicago, Minneapolis benefited from oil as a big economic driver are going to be resistant to change,

Françoise:

But this isn't just a US problem, right? Oh no, no, of course not. One of the things that was pointed out at ISS Europe in the panel was how unlike lot of other issues, like for instance, water rights and water concerns, this is a global issue that everybody's involved in. And, you know , when , when it came up down to cost, they were talking about, at some point somebody is going to need to pay for it. There's going to need to be some sort of taxation tax incentives. And then also the idea that ultimately there'll be the cost to the brand of not doing it. If you are become known as a brand that does not put in efforts to become a sustainable manufacturing company , you might lose business. So as far as looking at long-term costs or the impacted of adapting, sustainable manufacturing practices, you have to look not just at the cost of doing it, but what is it going to be the cost to the company if we don't do it.

Martijn:

Companies have been doing that already. Bigger corporations are already looking at that triple bottom line. But to look at this as a global problem, and say - "we're doing a good job, China is not, or they were doing that or they're doing this and we're not, so we're not making an impact." So, you know, as opposed to just taking accountability and responsibility for our own backyard and say , let's, let's start cleaning up what we can do, and let's start setting a good example. And I think obviously globally, we need to have agreement on certain standards and on certain goals and objectives. The US has always been leading in so many different aspects globally, right? And this just should be just another one of those times where they should at least be willing to stick their neck out and not finger-point as much. A nd, a nd not just the US, I think that's i n many different countries a re doing the same

Françoise:

U S used to be leading.

Speaker 3:

Yeah. And I'm just saying they've been leading in so many aspects, be it be it , a spreader of peace or being in... i guess that's also arguable I guess, but, but you know what I mean? The US has always kind of positioned themselves as a front runner or as a leader in many different things globally, but when it comes to climate, we 've r eally regressed.

Julia:

Well, for sure. I mean, I think Europe has been leading for a long time. You go back to the early 2000's and RoHS that started with restrictions in Europe. I remember in 1990 hearing, Oh, guess what? At some point, pretty soon Europe may ban lead in solders. If you want to sell any electronics in Europe, we're going to have to maybe do something about this. And then 15 years later it finally happened .

Martijn:

So, we've really, so far focused the conversation on kind of the end products , right? And how can we be more mindful and conscious of how we handle that? But obviously there's a lot that can be done before the product even hits the shelf, right? And this is where our focus has been lying a lot as well is before it even hits the shelves throughout the entire value chain, the entire manufacturing chain, there are a lot of initiatives and efforts that can be done to reduce waste and to manufacture in cleaner and more sustainable, sustainable ways , and design new alternative technologies that are less wasteful. We talked about batteries earlier. Dean, what I was trying to mention was there's a couple of companies working on solid state battery technology, right? It's still very nascent industry, but it solves a lot of very difficult problems for current battery technologies. So innovation quite often is also part of the sustainability e fforts. It's not just reducing and recycling and repurposing,

Julia:

Considering it starting with the design phase, I have talked with people who are circuit designers and they just think, well, I just design a circuit. It needs to achieve these certain objectives. Here's the constraints. And they just design the best circuit they can. The idea of thinking of a sustainability part of it would never even occur to them. So I think if you can incorporate that just from the beginning of design, that is part of it. It's going to be what materials you make something from, but there may be also some different architectures that are going to make more sense when it comes to sustainability and you need to talk with the engineers and different types of engineers need to work together to come up with the best solution.

Martijn:

So as we have heard the term design for manufacturing, a lot ,maybe design for sustainable manufacturing , Is there any existing movement in that? Is that actually really already there? Or is it not that you know of?

Dean:

No, not that I'm aware of. They're trying to get there, but I don't think, as companies start to look at the amount of waste, how can they design things so they reduce that waste.

Julia:

And certainly in the semiconductor manufacturing world, I don't think that sustainable design is the high priority item there.

Françoise:

But with companies like Intel being so intent on their sustainable development goals and really driving the rest of the supply chain, then also TSMC, I mean, that's where the chip designs happen. Wouldn't that be where it starts with these companies that are very focused on achieving these goals , to actually start at the drawing board quite literally.

Dean:

Yeah, I think you would, but part of the issue, I think with the semiconductor companies, as well as , um, in the packaging space, because it's an ... 'll call it an additive subtractive...unless you scrap a lot, you don't have a lot of yield, you don't have a lot of waste with respect to that, unless you're starting to throw out your... I guess they're FOUPS, they're no longer "boats." I'd be i nterested to see if those get recycled at all. You're recycling most of your silicon these days, your wafers for use as pilots or you're sending it back and it's getting ground up and, and reused again, c ause it's cheaper to do it that way than it is t o, to go build Silicon out of sand u h, for the most part. And the recycling business in that area has grown into a very large business. Overall, I don't think it's something that the forefront of their minds because everything i n the chips i s g oing t o get used. Now one of the things that is starting to come up is as they're starting to look at the reduction of water and how can we use less heat in the process, which then equates to energy. They're starting to look t he processes that are more sustainable and then requiring their equipment companies to develop systems that use less water, use less heat, do a better job at, cooling themselves versus having to send all the heat out to a cooling tower and let the cooling tower take care of it.

Julia:

And then you can use heat generated in the process to heat other equipment and that kind of thing. And definitely the reuse and recycling, like filtering fluids and reusing them. Taking what would be industrial scrap and re melting it, reprocessing it - although sometimes some of it might need to be sent to a different industry. It depends on what it is. But the idea of incorporating sustainability into design...that's not necessarily there. The other thing that came up when you were talking about reducing the temperature is that was one of the weird, annoying ironies of the whole lead free solder situation. What they substituted was a higher melting ally. And so they needed to use more energy and yes, you're getting rid of lead , but overall is this really the right answer? AT ECTC I was hearing about, them working on tin-bismuth alloys. And back when I did my PhD research on tin-bismuth, I'm like, okay, it's a low melting binary ally. Nobody's really going to use it in a solder. Well, Hey, maybe ...

Martijn:

What else should we be doing? How should we be looking at, you know, building a sustainability program? And then , on the back of that, what can we do to make that work for us, if we're going to put effort, time and money into this, as you said in your presentation as well, it's all about using that, but not making it a gr een-washing t ype of marketing campaign. Make it true and genuine to my company and to our environment so that, u m , w e're not actually doing ourselves a disservice to try to promote our sustainability.

Julia:

Absolutely. Because I think if companies are going to suddenly just feel like, oh, I've got to get on that bandwagon. Right? You've got to have a story and not just make up a story, but have a story that really is going to honestly talk about your new awareness and your new plans without it making it sound like -Oh, what we've been doing the past 10 years is really awful - because companies, aren't g oing t o want to say that. But it's a tricky thing as far as how to communicate about it, but hey, we're trying to help.

Françoise:

I think this is a really good place to stop for now. We've covered so much ground in this discussion and I hope we can revisit these topics in more depth in the future. Um, but in the meantime, thanks for the talk you guys. It was great.

Julia and Martijn:

Absolutely.

Dean:

Thank you so much Francoise. It was great to be on the presentation today and looking forward to talking about sustainability more in the future.

All:

Take care . Bye-bye bye .

Françoise:

We hope you enjoyed today's podcast on sustainability in semiconductor manufacturing. For information on how to contact today's guests, Dean Freeman, Julia Goldstein, and M artijn Pierik check out the show notes on the podcast website. If you're interested in reading Julia's book m aterials value, you can find it on her website, juliagoldsteinauthor.com. It's also available on Amazon. Today's podcast is sponsored by Kiterocket, a full service PR and marketing agency that specializes in B2B marketing for companies that serve the semiconductor and sustainability industries. Learn more about them at www.kiterocket.com. There's lots more to come. So tune in next time on the 3D InCites podcast.