IBM Invents Method to Turn Waste Silicon Wafers into Solar Panels
October 30, 2007 4:25 PM
IMB Process Turns Scrap Silicon Wafers into Solar Cells
IBM reclaims junk silicon for solar panels
We all use items every day that have components that start as silicon wafers – items ranging from our computers and cell phones to our digital cameras. What many don’t know is the sheer volume of silicon wafers that are started in production each day and end up being discarded.
IBM says these discarded wafers were traditionally ground up and thrown into landfills or melted down and resold because of the intellectual property on the wafers, which kept them from being able to be resold outside the company.
IBM announced today a new process that it invented to take discarded silicon wafers and reclaim them
specifically to be sold to the solar cell manufacturing industry. The new reclamation process involves taking etched silicon wafers that are discarded and using a polish wheel/compound along with de-ionized water to remove all of the intellectual property from the surface of the wafer. The process does not damage the silicon underneath.
This new process is revolutionary won IBM the “2007 Most Valuable Pollution Prevention Award” from The National Pollution Prevention Program. IBM says that worldwide about 250,000 silicon wafers are started each day and that up to 3.3 percent of these wafers end up being discarded amounting to about three million discarded wafers each year.
In addition to merely saving the material and time used in the manufacturing of the reclaimed silicon wafers, IBM says that it sees an overall 90 percent energy savings because repurposing the scrap means IBM doesn’t have to manufacture as many new wafers to meet demands of its production process.
Companies that buy the repurposed wafers can save 30 to 90 percent of the energy normally needed if they used new silicon material as the source. Using this new process IBM was able to save more than $500,000 USD in 2006 and ongoing savings for 2007 will be near $1.5 million USD.
Solar panel manufacturers are also excited about this new process, "One of the challenges facing the solar industry is a severe shortage of silicon, which threatens to stall its rapid growth,” said Charles Bai, CFO of ReneSola, one of China's fastest growing solar energy companies. "This is why we have turned to reclaimed silicon materials sourced primarily from the semiconductor industry to supply the raw material our company needs to manufacture solar panels."
"It looks like the iPhone 4 might be their Vista, and I'm okay with that." -- Microsoft COO Kevin Turner
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