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Semiconductor’s Sustainability Promise

The Imec-Semi keynote highlighted how the semiconductor collaboration model and technical advances are addressing critical world issues.

Luc Van Den Hove, CEO and president of Imec, opened the ITF keynote at Semicon West with both humor and caution about our technology-based world. A short BBC One film clip parody of fruit confused for personal computing devices was followed by a collage of grim images depicting the worlds problems, from natural disasters to an aging population, global pollution and even social unrest.

Luc Van Den Hove, IMEC CEO and President.

The common thread in both visuals was the effect of change wrought by technology upon our world. Is this rate of change sustainable by our planet? According to Van Den Hove, the answer lies in our ability to connect, collaborate and innovate.

Technology has contributed to unsustainable changes in our environment, healthcare and social life. Making these changes sustainable in the future is the goal and the promise of the business model and technical advances created by the semiconductor community.

Focusing first on the environment, Van Den Hove observed that the world continues to consume more and more energy. In 2010, consumption had increased by 5 percent. This unsustainable energy rate shows no evidence of slowing down. It has prompted calls for energy reduction, renewable energy sources and a smarter energy grid.

“Semiconductor technology can contribute to implementing more sustainable changes,” noted Van Den Hove. For example, energy generating photovoltaic (PV) solar cells are predicted to reach 1 Terra-Watt of power output by 2020. They will meet 5 percent of the world’s electric energy production. But PV solar cells still face the challenges of efficiency (less than 21 percent) and cost. They must be made more efficient and at consumer-level costs. He noted that materials are a big driver in the cost of PV.

Today, silver is used in 7 percent of PVs. But silver is very expensive and scarce. Once solution would be to replace silver with copper (Cu). In addition to be cheaper and providing greater energy efficiencies, the semiconductor industry is well versed in the use of Cu materials.

Other avenues of exploration by Imec and their partner are organic solar cells, which could be integrated in very flexible form factors.

This is an ongoing report … – JB

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