Green chemistry saves millions for Intel
By Lee van der Voo, Sustainable Business Oregon
Sustainable Business Oregon
A one-of-a-kind green chemistry formula is helping Intel save millions and creating tiny microprocessors — smaller than 50 nanometers — more effectively than ever.
These miniature microprocessors serve as the brains for today’s personal computers. They are smaller than 50 nanometers, or about 20 times smaller than a typical germ. They are made from more than 10 layers of different materials, which must be selectively removed as they are formed.
Intel first challenged a number of outside chemical companies and academic labs to find a way to remove metal layers in 2004. After a year of research, however, all were unable to do it. But it only took Nabil Mitskawi, a process engineer at Intel’s Hillsboro campus since 1993, three days to demonstrate the feasibility of a green chemistry concept that could work.
Mistkawi was a doctoral student at Portland State University at the time. He continued to refine the idea in the labs at Intel while working closely with the university and the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory in Albany.
The resulting "wet etching" method was first implemented in 2006 and scaled up in 2007. It is now part of manufacturing for all current generations of Intel microprocessors.
"Our ability to make this formulation in house saved Intel a significant amount of money," said Mistkawi. "Additionally, the fact that it's environmentally friendly provides further considerable savings, since disposal and waste management costs do not apply to this chemistry."
Mistkawi’s concoction is 98 percent water and contains no more fluoride than toothpaste. It dissolves certain metals while preserving essential wiring components and insulators in processing chips, yet the process is cleaner and more effective than typical chemical polishing. The green formula replaced the use of toxic solvents in some of the wet etching processes used to manufacture microprocessors. It is also fast — complete in two minutes.
Lee van der Voo, lvdvoo*at*gmail.com, is a freelance writer for Sustainable Business Oregon.
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