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IBM Turning Discarded Silicon into Solar Panels

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There’s a lot of waste in the computer industry. IBM has developed a solution that takes scrap silicon disks and makes them into solar panels.

Computer chips are made of silicon wafers that have to be perfect to be usable. Imperfect wafers are thrown away after sensitive data is removed. Now, with a new process by inventor Eric White, they can be reused and made into solar panels.

Not only are the wafers being salvaged but the process for cleaning them is also improved. No more harsh acid. IBM has been sandblasting the chips instead. But now they use an even cleaner process that uses water and an abrasive pad. Eric White invented the process and says with the new technology they can get five or six monitor wafers out from one that otherwise would have been crushed and discarded.

They sell cleaned wafers to the solar-cell industry, which has a high demand for silicon to make solar panels. Not only is this a smart move for the environment, but it saves money (hopefully more companies will follow suit). IBM started using the process at its Burlington, Vermont location and last year it saved them over $500,000. Now it’s employing the process at another location in New York and estimate a savings of over $1.5 million. These are IBM’s semiconductor manufacturing sites.

Each year the semiconductor industry discards as many as 3 million wafers worldwide according to IBM. Now all IBM needs to do to bring this full circle is buy back those solar panels and install them in all their offices.

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