Ultrapure water for ultra-advanced semiconductor 'fab'

General Electric

The massive new semiconductor manufacturing plant in upstate New York that’s being built by GlobalFoundries is expected to be the largest and most advanced computer chip factory in the world when it’s completed in late 2012. The $4.6 billion facility, called “Fab 8,” will need millions of gallons a day of ultra-purified water — and GE just announced that it’s signed a contract to design, supply and install the system. Often considered the lifeblood of a semiconductor chip fabrication facility, or “fab,” these systems are essential since a chip comes into contact with ultrapure water more than 35 times during the production process. Any disruption of service or “out-of-spec” water can compromise the chips and even result in loss of product.


Big thirst: The new facility, seen above in this artist’s rendering, is the largest economic development project now underway in the United States. It’s currently under construction at the Luther Forest Technology Campus in Saratoga County, N.Y. “We chose GE based on its extensive experience and ability to provide ongoing reliable technical and field support,” said Norm Armour, vice president and general manager of Fab 8. Image: GlobalFoundries.

As Dr. Farhang Shadman, director of the University of Arizona’s specialized semiconductor research lab, said in a recent podcast with tech magazine IEEE Spectrum: “One [chip] manufacturing plant uses anywhere between 2 to 4 million gallons of very, very pure water — we call it ultrapure water — per day, and that, on the average, is roughly equivalent to the water usage of a city of maybe 40,000 to 50,000 people.”

Dr. Shadman continues: “The wafer that is being cleaned is already very clean. You’re trying to remove very, very small traces of impurity. So, if water has any contaminants in it…it will be harmful. A very interesting point is about bacteria: We cannot tolerate any bacteria — live or dead, it doesn’t matter — because of the fact that the bacteria typically have some of the trace elements in them like phosphorus, like carbon. These traces of these compounds will change the electrical properties of the silicon wafer.”

For GlobalFoundries, which is the former manufacturing arm of AMD, GE will be providing a series of water treatment technologies that includes pumps, storage tanks, ultraviolet sterilizers, ozone generators, ion exchange, an ultrafiltration system and a gas transfer membrane system. While each technology individually has a name, collectively, it’s known in the industry as an ultrapure water system.


White glove test: Computer chip makers not only rely on ultrapure water, they have to ensure that all aspects of the manufacturing process are free of contaminants. Clean rooms, such as this one seen in a NASA lab, are the norm for semiconductor production. Photo: NASA.

* Read today’s announcement
* Listen to a University of Arizona podcast about the semiconductor industry

Learn more in these GE Reports water stories:
* “World Water Day: Turning back the threat of scarcity
* “Water summit opens the floodgates on reuse ideas
* “Diving into access & scarcity at World Water Week
* “Making a splash with water wins
* “Citizen GE: With water, the glass is still half full
* “Tech’s on tap with new GE-Singapore water center”
* “GE’s “sustainable cities” road show tours Europe”

* Learn more about GE’s water technologies in action around the world
* Try out GE’s interactive WaterExplorer
* Learn more about GE’s water technologies

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