Main semiconductor producers trying to develop in Arizona will possible be spared from water cuts induced by an unprecedented water scarcity within the Southwest, at the very least for now. As a part of the scramble to finish a scarcity of one other type — the worldwide dearth in semiconductor chips — each Intel and TSMC plan to open new services in Arizona. However they’re organising store simply as one of many worst droughts in many years grows worse throughout the Western US.
Federal authorities formally declared a scarcity on the Colorado River for the primary time ever this week, which is able to set off water cuts in a number of states and Mexico beginning January 1st, 2022. The scarcity is on the Hoover Dam’s Lake Mead, the most important reservoir within the US and an enormous supply of water for Arizona.
How the deliberate water cuts shake out is dependent upon who’s given high precedence below a posh set of water-sharing agreements. Arizona, with extra junior rights to the water than different states it shares it with, will undergo the most important cuts, dropping about 8 percent of the entire water it receives a yr. However for now, these cuts will primarily have an effect on agriculture, which used greater than 70 p.c of the state’s water in 2019. Water for tribes, municipal use, and trade are given increased priority within the state, shielding residents and firms until a extra extreme water scarcity is finally declared at Lake Mead.
A manufacturing unit or “fab” for making semiconductors wants a number of water to function. It’ll guzzle between 2 to 4 million gallons of water a day by some estimates, utilizing the water to chill down gear and clear silicon wafers. That’s about as a lot water as 13,698 to 27,397 Arizona residents would possibly use in a day. Fabs are additionally fairly choosy with regards to water high quality, they should use “ultra-pure” water to forestall any impurities from damaging the chips.
Industries within the state used up 6 p.c of Arizona’s water in 2019, however that might develop as chipmakers and other manufacturers transfer in. In March, Intel introduced that it’s going to spend $20 billion to construct two new semiconductor factories in Chandler, Arizona, an enlargement of its present campus there.
Final yr, the corporate pledged that by 2030 it is going to restore and return extra freshwater than it makes use of. It’s nearing that benchmark in Arizona, the place Intel says it cleaned up and returned 95 p.c of the freshwater it utilized in 2020. It has its personal water remedy plant at its Ocotillo campus in Chandler that’s just like a municipal plant. There’s additionally a “brine reduction facility,” a public-private partnership with town of Chandler, that brings 2.5 million gallons of Intel’s wastewater a day again to consuming commonplace. Intel makes use of a few of the handled water once more, and the remainder is shipped to replenish groundwater sources or be utilized by surrounding communities.
Whereas Intel recycles a lot of its water, extra fabs will imply it might want to ship much more water by way of its techniques. The corporate says that Arizona has been “vital” to Intel’s operations for greater than 4 many years. The state is already dwelling to its first “mega-factory network” and its latest semiconductor fab. Intel used greater than 5.2 billion gallons of water in Arizona in 2020 — roughly 20 p.c of which was reclaimed water, in accordance with its most up-to-date corporate responsibility report.
“We continually look for opportunities to minimize our water footprint and will continue to make investments in water conservation and restoration, even as we continue to grow,” Intel mentioned to The Verge in an electronic mail.
A 3D mannequin of a water treatment plant for a new semiconductor facility in Chandler, Arizona.
Chip manufacturing large TSMC additionally has its eye on Arizona. In Could 2020, the corporate announced plans to construct a $12 billion new fab close to Phoenix, which might be its first in Arizona and its second within the US (its first is in Washington state). TSMC may very well be planning to construct as much as six new fabs in Arizona over the following 10 to fifteen years, Reuters reported earlier this yr.
TSMC mentioned in an electronic mail to The Verge that for now it doesn’t anticipate the water scarcity to have “any impact” on its plan to construct a brand new fab in Arizona, though it says it is going to “continue to monitor the water supply situation closely.”
Most of TSMC’s fabs are in Taiwan, the place earlier this yr the worst drought in additional than 50 years threatened the already pressured provide chain for chips. TSMC plans to complete development this yr of a brand new water remedy plant in Taiwan that might finally recycle sufficient water to provide half of the corporate’s day by day wants, Nikkei Asia reported in April.
Whereas Taiwan nonetheless dominates semiconductor manufacturing, Arizona is rising as a brand new hub. The Biden administration has prioritized increase a home provide of semiconductor chips as the present scarcity impacts all the pieces from automobiles to telephones and sport consoles. Two different corporations, NXP and Microchip Inc., have fabs within the state additionally. NXP didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark from The Verge, and Microchip declined to remark.
Arizona is notoriously dry, which leaves it depending on water-sharing agreements with different states. Arizona will get a hefty 38 p.c of its water from the Colorado River, and with water from the river operating low, the state is anticipated to face some robust selections sooner or later. The state has been in a drought since 1994, and local weather change is making issues worse. Now, the overwhelming majority of Arizona faces a “severe” drought, in accordance with the US Drought Monitor.