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The Environmental Cost of Silicon Chips 201

Posted by CowboyNeal
from the take-only-tantalum-leave-only-footprints dept.
Col. Panic writes "Scientific American is running a small story about the amount of material required to produce silicon chips and the potential hazards of associated toxic chemicals." This combined with coltan mining processes sure paints a dark picture of the chip industry.
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The Environmental Cost of Silicon Chips

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  • manufacturing microchips requires approximately 160 times the amount of energy needed to make typical silicon

    ...to make sand?

  • by acehole (174372) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:39AM (#4615974) Homepage
    In line with protecting the environment, I choose to use environmentally friendly products in my cpu, such as compost and renewable timber.

    Of course my computer doesnt work, but at least i'm helping the environment.
    • In line with protecting the environment, I choose to use environmentally friendly products in my cpu, such as compost and renewable timber.

      Nifty! I don't suppose you've been trying to build Babbage's Analytical Engine [fourmilab.ch], would you? The concept of building one out of wood sounds interesting... is compost the power source? (I'd suppose you'd still need a combustion chamber... of what are you constructing that?)

      Anyhow, good luck in getting it running! (I wonder how many years per frame you'd get playing Quake?)
  • That's it! (Score:4, Funny)

    by empee (219598) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:41AM (#4615978)
    I'm NEVER buying a CPU from DeBeers' ever again.
  • by TOGA! TOGA TOGA! (606472) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:43AM (#4615986)
    a typical two-gram chip takes 1.6 kilograms of fossil fuel, 72 grams of chemicals and 32 kilograms of water Does anyone know if this 'water' is resuable? Is it just for cooling?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:45AM (#4615998)
      The water is used in coffee, Coke and other caffeinated drinks by the nerds who design the chips.
    • The water is used for rinsing wafers, which happens many, many times in a typical chip process. The water is highly filtered and deionized before the wafers are washed, then is cleansed to remove the acids and solvents that are picked up during rinse cycles. So it is reusable, but only after minerals are added back to it. You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.
      • > You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.

        This has made my BS detector twitch. As soon as the pure water hits my mouth, it becomes impure because it mixes with my spit, so there's really no such thing as "drinking ultra-pure water." Water with the same concentration of saline as your body is actually much more dangerous than fresh water, and fresh water supplies all over the world have widely varying concentrations of minerals, yet people survive on them.

        Maybe I'm missing something, but I invoke common sense to assert that as long as the mineral concentration of fresh water is reasonably low, the precise value is not important, and furthermore that the value of zero is not special.
        • by denzo (113290) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:37AM (#4616749)
          > You cannot drink fab quality water because it a large concentration gradient would form and minerals from the other fluids in your body would be depleted by the migration into the ultra pure water.
          This has made my BS detector twitch. As soon as the pure water hits my mouth, it becomes impure because it mixes with my spit, so there's really no such thing as "drinking ultra-pure water."
          Yep, it's a myth that pure water leaches minerals from your body. Once it comes into contact with impurities (such as spit, like you mentioned), the water is no longer "pure". So how can pure water stay pure and do damage to our body? Even so, it will only remove minerals that are body has not used, not what has already been absorbed by our cells, which our body didn't need anyway. And our minerals aren't absorbed from water anyway, they're absorbed from food.

          The only other way pure water can kill you is in a massive quantity, which would kill you even if it was normal drinking water.

          • Heh, kind of reminds me of organic chemistry lab. We had to copy down beforehand all the physical ("It set the bench on fire!!!") and health ("It set my arm on fire!!!") hazards of all the chemicals we were to use in the lab... Yes, *ALL* the chemicals, and water is a chemical. (Needless to say this is a fairly boring mickey-mouse procedure, but it is a good way to drill in to people's heads that you need to have complete knowledge of what you're doing with chemicals before you do anything.) So some anonymous wag stuck an Official Hazard Label (orange paper, skull and crossbones, bold 32pnt type face, etc) on the big jug of DI (DeIonized) water in the lab reading:

            PHYSICAL HAZARD(S): flooding
            HEALTH HAZARD(S): drowning
        • You are. I worked in a chip fab for 3 years and is common knowledge that drinking the water isn't a good idea because of its purity. The water in question is *far* more pure than any fresh water supply. The less ions in the water, the less damage to the chips.

          A sip here and there probably wouldn't kill you, but drinking DI (deionized) water is certainly not a subsitute for degowning and drinking from the water fountains outside the clean rooms! :)
      • Someone should tell that to the bottled water folks!
    • And not only that, their waisting our precious "chemicals"!
  • A clean room (Score:3, Informative)

    by truthsearch (249536) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:45AM (#4615997) Homepage Journal
    I can't seem to find the link, but recently Wired published an article in their dead-tree magazine about replacements for many of the hazardous chemicals used in chip production. There are new ideas which will make most of the run-off biodegradable, and some companies are looking into building new factories to support these new techs in the long term. But there won't be any environmentally safe process anytime in the near future.
    • by mr_z_beeblebrox (591077) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:05AM (#4616093) Journal
      But there won't be any environmentally safe process anytime in the near future.

      That's not hardly fair. We have a newly structured govt. in the US that is pushing hard for greener processes. They will cut taxes for big industry, relax emission standards etc...all so our children can have a greener environment to grow up in. Of course green is the color of more than grass.
      • The Republicans and Democrats should merge and rename themselves the Green Party. They have far more green than the current Green Party. Then the current Green Party could change to maybe the People's Party... oh, that sounds communist. Well, Nader would come up with something.

        Yeah, it's flamebait, but I'm so fed up with the system...
      • Now, many readers are not Americans and may not recognize the allusion to green. I believe the poster refers to iron-rich leafy green vegetables such as spinach, which research has show grow wonderfully in a unnaturally hot, stinking, polluted environment where all the humans have been reduced to compost.

        Just thought I'd set that straight.

        What's that -- our money is green, too? No, I think these industrialists find currency denominations too small and trade only in gold, platinum, diamonds, and the occasional dab of strontium-90. Out government is committed to the environment, one in which oil and gas are plentiful and burned inefficiently.

        I'd grin but my teeth seem to be loose today. :-P /SARCASM

        Sorry, I'm grumpy since Tuesday, but I don't take all this too seriously. Besides, how much electricity is it that I read these Internet nodes consume? Logging off now...
    • Re:A clean room (Score:4, Informative)

      by max cohen (163682) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:24AM (#4616198)
      The replacement they were referring to in that article is super critical carbon dioxide. It is a viable solution to the environmental problem for chip production and already used for "greener" dry cleaning, but definately won't be ramping up in fabs anytime soon. Chip manufacturers are very slow and recluctant to change processes.
  • Great, another in depth study to tell us how we're so enviromentally wrong. It says that "The team found that the materials involved in making a 32-MB RAM microchip total 630 times the mass of the final product." I bet everybody would quickly switch to 8MB ram if it only took 200 times the mass. You gotta love this academic+eviroment mix.
    • by mumblestheclown (569987) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:50AM (#4616025)
      dittos, rush

      or, more likely--this is a reminder to all that are working on this sort of stuff to consider the environmental consequences of their actions.

      basically, you could write the same case about the auto industry 30 years ago. then, people started becoming interested in environmental issues, and attitudes within the industry changed. While we're not at ideal yet, we're at least at where even SUV owners have embedded in their minds somewhere that such gas guzzling is not the best idea.

    • by phuturephunk (617641) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:59AM (#4616066)
      . . Its just like any other period of mass adoption of technology in Human history . . I mean, look at the way England and the United states manufactured materials before the beginning of last century . . Smokestacks belching unfiltered by product into the skies and run-off pipes dumping raw sewage into the rivers and seas . . There's a honeymoon period where everybody's eating up the tech and the whole issue of 'cost' other than the bottom line for materials really isn't taken into account . . Only sometime after the initial binge do people finally standup with that hangover and see the potential damage that the consumption really causes . .Now Environmentalists will kvetch about it for a while and we'll go through the cycle of upgrading the process so its greener . . .Its the beauty of innovation :) . . And plus, its pure entertainment to watch both sides hurl statistics at each other with such vicious aplomb . . ;) . . .
    • The only thing that you can do - tax those who do not clean up their act.
      A large company will allways try and producs cheaply . If it becomes too expensive to produce chips using "Dirty" methods you an just bet they will find "Clean" methods to reduce their margins.
      • . . Taxation would work in a perfect world, so would fining people for infractions, but we've all heard of firms just biting the bullet and actually budgeting for fines in order to dump waste. . .Also, in the case of taxes, I , at least, am so jaded with polititians that I don't believe their gonna use the revenue in any useful way (**cough** tobacco anyone?). There's got to be some kind of more creative and effective solutions to CONVINCE companies to clean it up . . . Taxation aint it . . I was thinking, since everything in business nowadays is the perception of reality instead of actual reality (e.g. the Stock Market) that maybe, since we're in the business of inventing numbers, we should invent a company 'karma' index or something like that . . . Maybe its been done already . .I dunno . .
    • by kevlar (13509) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:16AM (#4616147)
      The problem with reports like this is that you never know precisely what the unbias facts are. In a world where the majority of conservationist organizations are run by zealots who practically hate civilization altogether, you never know who you can trust.... and it only hurts their cause. In this case, nobody is going to stop using computers or even pay attention to this article.
    • The team found that the materials involved in making a 32-MB RAM microchip total 630 times the mass of the final product

      Wait a second, it it took that long just to make the 32 meg chip, why not just make them larger? Larger chips are almost identical is size. Would this not be safer for the environment? Hence eleminate all small ram peices and just sell large ram chips. For example, they would only sell 1, 2, or even 5 gig ram upgrades. In theory the difference in cost would be minimal.
  • Alternatives (Score:3, Interesting)

    by e8johan (605347) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:48AM (#4616015) Homepage Journal
    What are the alternatives. I understand that people compain about other people using cars that use excessive amounts of fuel, but there is no better way to make microchips yet, or is there?
    • Re:Alternatives (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Mr_Dyqik (156524) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:06AM (#4616100)
      Don't upgrade. Don't play the very latest games with all the graphics turned up to full. Don't install the latest bloatware OS (I'm remaining very carefully vendor neutral here). Buy fewer products with microchips in them.

      • Re:Alternatives (Score:2, Insightful)

        by Anonymous Coward
        Buy fewer products with microchips in them.
        Stop buying things with chips in them.

        No more computers.
        No more cellphones.
        And no more 'modern' plain phones, back to electromechanical POTS.
        No more TV, VCR, DVD player.
        No more stereo.
        No more alarm radios.
        No more electronic wristwatches.
        No more car electronics.
        No more microwave ovens.
        No more hearing aids and pacemakers.
        (BTW, did you know the very first chip ever - meaning more than one transistor on a single chip of semiconductor material - was a hearing aid amplifier made by [Dutch] Philips, a couple of years before the "official" invention of the integrated circuit in the US?)

        No more work for most of us.
  • The chemicals (Score:5, Interesting)

    by wiredog (43288) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:50AM (#4616022) Journal
    I used to do programming for automated process lines used in the circuit board industry and quartz chip fabs (the chips used for timing purposes). One of the chemicals used is HF, since that's about the only thing that will etch silicon, which is really nasty. Also used are H2SO4, potassium permanganate, and other fun chemicals.

    Important safety note: When working in such a place, always wash your hands up to the elbows before going to the bathroom, or rubbing your eyes. I've been told that sulfuric on the willy is an unforgettable experience...

    • Re:The chemicals (Score:2, Informative)

      by jmcharry (608079)
      Those are the least of it. I recall IBM, which was as careful as anyone, had problems with trichlor leaking into the ground water at their NY chip plant. HF is generally mixed with HNO3. The nitric oxidizes the Si into glass, which the HF eats. It is buffered with acetic acid. That stuff is seriously nasty.I don't recall any accidents with it, but there were a couple of legends. The processes also involve heavy metals.
    • Re:The chemicals (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Zathrus (232140) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:25AM (#4616648) Homepage
      Important safety note: When working in such a place, always wash your hands up to the elbows before going to the bathroom, or rubbing your eyes. I've been told that sulfuric on the willy is an unforgettable experience...

      Where on earth did you work with such shitty fab safety that you were likely to get any of those chemicals on you?

      I've worked in fabs too, and wrote software to control PVD/CVD and etchers. When I started the job I went to about a week worth of fab safety classes where they scared the hell out of you from doing stupid things with chemicals. Probably my favorite line was "if you hear the gas alarm, leave the chemical storage room immediately. If you choose to linger, at least try to die within 6 feet of the door, because that's how long the hook is to drag your body out."

      The chemicals being used in modern fabs are, indeed, incredibly, ungodly nasty. HF, arsenic, H2SO4, etc are the tip of the iceberg. We couldn't wear contacts in the fab because of a cleaning chemical in the floor with the trade name Pirhana. If something ever went wrong and the fans backblasted, Pirhana would melt plastic - and thus your contacts. To your eyes. So we got safety glasses. There were gasses in use that would kill you before they could be detected.

      The point of all this is that safety procedures were taken very, very seriously. It didn't matter if it was deionized water or 80 molar HF - you didn't screw around with the chemicals. Having to "wash up to the elbows" wasn't necessary because there weren't going to be chemicals around that you could get on you. Not to mention that you were in a fab suit in the first place.

      Damn, I'm glad I didn't work wherever you did. I value my health more than that.
      • Not just fabs. Circuit board shops are very dirty places. Board cleaning lines. Plating lines. Etc.
      • Before you listen to Zathrus about worker safety, consider what he looked like [midwinter.com] at his last physical.

        Oh, wait ...ZathrAs? Are they related?

        If Dickens were alive today, he'd probably use a "shitty fab plant" as a setting for a novel!
      • Yes, we all remember the story about the organic chemistry class, where some female student was mixing something, and it went very wrong, and became a vapor, which rose up and dissolved her polyester blouse. . .
      • We couldn't wear contacts in the fab because of a cleaning chemical in the floor with the trade name Pirhana. If something ever went wrong and the fans backblasted, Pirhana would melt plastic - and thus your contacts.

        I believe this may be a reference to Pirhana Solution, a mixture of Sulfuric Acid and Hydrogen Peroxide. Very effective at removing even the slightest traces of contaminants from a surface, but also known for it's nasty habit of detonating when mixed with organic solvents.
    • by Phronesis (175966)
      HF, H2SO4, etc. are nasty, but easy to neutralize. If you neutralize them, they become aqueous solutions of relatively benign salts. The problems are more with organic solvents that have to be burned at high temperature and with heavy metals that cannot be rendered safe, but must be segregated from the environment.
    • The chip business must be thriving in Columbia -- they are the largest importer of potassium permanganate in the world.

      Oh wait..It's used to make cocaine too. ;-)

    • My favorite chemical to imagine working with (when I worked at Texas Instruments [ti.com] and wandered around the 3rd floor pipe space looking at labels) was Silane. With a chemical formula just like Methane, with Silicon in the place of the Carbon, you'd imagine it would be explosive but not otherwise interesting. Wrong! Silane can spontaneously explode [bnl.gov] when exposed to air. It has to be specially ducted and burned off or blown out quickly enough to prevent creation of a flammable concentration. A friend of mine where I work now, though, had more direct experience with Silane while working at another semiconductor manufacturer. He claims that he once liberated a small volume of silane in the air, and found that it formed a bubble... the silane reacted with the air on the edge to form a protective shield around the remaining gas. Of course, when the bubble burst... the explosion was deafening. Strangely enough, I don't think my friend ever found the opportunity to experiment further. But should you care to try it yourself on a smaller scale, go for it! [creighton.edu]
  • Newsflash! (Score:5, Funny)

    by Noryungi (70322) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:51AM (#4616029) Homepage Journal
    Complex chemical compounds can be harmful to your health and to the environment! (Wow!)

    And, in related news, Bill Gates is incredibly rich and Saddam Hussein may not be such a nice guy after all! (Amazing!)

    More information in our next news program... Film at 11.
  • Benefit too great (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Apreche (239272) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:54AM (#4616040) Homepage Journal
    while there may be some environmental issues concerning chip manufacture. The benefit that the microprocessor has brought to human society far outweighs any environmental cost.
  • which is manufactured in sweatshops in third world countries, like the Phillipines, from scrap wire, metal and plastic, so at least American doesn't get polluted.
  • by colnago (91472) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @08:59AM (#4616064) Homepage
    a *real* geek doesn't get outside enough to care about the environment.


    Okay, it's not very funny. Don't laugh.

    • or perhaps a 'Regretfully True'

      judging by some of the posts here there are a lot of people who think it doesn't really matter. As long as their CPU isn't burning a hole through their desk, who cares.

      And when the computer's thrown away and the components start to leak out... ah well, it isn't my computer anymore. I threw it away. I have this new shiny computer with twice the RAM and 120GB RAID-5 blah blah blah blah blah...

      My point isn't that we techies should stop using computers, but that we should at least be a little concerned about what it's costing us in the long run.

      Sweaty
      • While there are indeed nasty things in your consumer electronics, the real nasties they are talking about here are used in the fabrication of the components, and (AFAIK -- the weasel word that lets me say anything) they are not still present in the finished components. Your PC does contain lead and probably some cadmium and some other toxic heavy metals. It has been illegal to throw electronics in the trash (at least here in MN) for many years now.

        Silane was the nasty gas Union Carbide leaked at Bhopal (sp? Bopahl?) India that killed and maimed hundreds. It is bad stuff. Highly reactive with organic molecules.

        I maintain a FAQ on solar PV at my web site and one of my "open" questions is about the environmental hazards of PV. The finished product (at least Si PV cells, not so much the CdTe or CIS cells) is safe and stable, but the same nasties are used to make PV cells as other silicon semiconductors. I'd say that one of the "problems" of consumer culture is information hiding. We're pointing out the hazards of semiconductor production, but are you aware of how environmentally damaging many things you buy and discard without thinking are? Paper? Flour? Textiles? Don't even get me started about how much waste is produced to make an automobile. As a consumer, how do you know? Would you pay more for something if you know a cleaner but more expensive process was used to make it? Or if you knew that the manufacturer recycled and cleaned up beyond legal minimums?

        I'm not a huge fan of mandates, but I am a huge fan of information. It bothers me that I can't easily find out the materials and labor (and labor conditions) that went into the manufacture of any product I think about buying.

        Industry's answer to environmental regulation is predictably "It is too expensive," but I think a large number of affluent consumers would pay more for the "green" stuff (witness the surge in "organic" foods -- even though these same people often ignore public health issues in going organic) and industry wouldn't lose a dime.

        There is no place to start, however, without the information.
  • I make waste, too (Score:4, Insightful)

    by MobileDude (530145) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:09AM (#4616113) Homepage
    Last time I checked, *everything* we do has some form of by-product that could be considered waste. Heck, I can turn a bowl of beans into a mean ol' cloud of gas.

    What they fail to mention is the benefit of the chip manufactured. Cost/Benefit - sound familiar?

    This article is just reason # 87 why I cancelled my SciAm subscription earlier this year after 15 years of subscribing. They've veered from true science and now feel the need 'preach' environment, evolution, abortion, etc. in the monthly Editor's Perspectives (and various articles).
    • Re:I make waste, too (Score:5, Interesting)

      by gosand (234100) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:28AM (#4616226)
      This article is just reason # 87 why I cancelled my SciAm subscription earlier this year after 15 years of subscribing. They've veered from true science and now feel the need 'preach' environment, evolution, abortion, etc. in the monthly Editor's Perspectives (and various articles).

      I have subscribed for about 6 years, and I noticed that there have been more environmental articles, but I don't consider them to be preachy. They give some good environmental data, and ususally don't go into too much politics about it. I know recently there was a story on how some impoverished countries get a lot of our scrap electronics, and how they salvage metals from them. They point out how toxic this is to the people and the water supplies there. I like finding out about this stuff, because nobody else is reporting on it. We use a LOT of microchips, as do other countries. We need to know that there are dangers in this. Granted, I haven't read this article yet (I am a couple of months behind on my issues) but I'll bet that they are simply pointing out the environmental hazards of chip production, and as chip use increases, the hazards increase. Why is this such a bad thing to know? The more chips we produce, hopefully the better our processes will become, and eventually we will come up with a replacement technology that will make silicon obsolete. Hopefully this new technology will be more friendly to the environment. I'm no Moby, calling the turkey hotline to save the widdle turkeys, but I think we do need to consider our environment.

      • by mesocyclone (80188)
        I still have my subscription, after 40 years of reading the magazine.

        But I really don't like the way the magazine is going. It has long had a bit of a political skew (it frequently ran articles on nuclear deterrence, for example, which is hardly a scientific policy).

        But it is really sad what is happening now. The percentage of science articles to environmentalist articles is declining. Sure, there are scientific issues with the environment, but it is a small part of overall science. Where are the major physics articles? Why are most biology articles now about species diversity or global warming impact on the biota, or whatever?

        The answer is simple: the magazine has become a shill for a particular viewpoint.

        If one wants to see how biased it has gotten, and how the editors consider pushing their viewpoint more important than informing the public on science, just look at how they handled the debate over "The Skeptical Environmentalist." They spent 14 pages debunking it, with articles that were more venom and ad-hominem than scientific. They forced the author to take down his point-by-point refutation from his website (copyright violation, they said, even though it was obviously fair use).

        Another example is how they treated Forrest Mims on the Amateur Scientist issue. Forrest Mims is an anti-evolutionist, which is unfortunate. But he is also very good at the sort of thing that the Amateur Scientist used to be known for: doing practical science experiments and building interesting scientific gadgets. They hired him for the job, then found out he was anti-evolutionist, and promptly dropped him.

        I see no place for anti-evolutionist views in Scientific American, but he had promised not to put those views into his work. It appears that he was sacked just because they couldn't stand to have a person whose *private views* disagreed with them.

        The result of the bias and changed focus at SciAm shows. The magazine is shrinking. Obviously they are having financial troubles. I am afraid that this 150 year old American classic is doomed to extinction. Its great tradition is being destroyed by those who want to inject their political views into every aspect of life.
        • I see no place for anti-evolutionist views in Scientific American, but he had promised not to put those views into his work. It appears that he was sacked just because they couldn't stand to have a person whose *private views* disagreed with them.

          I see no place for someone holding anti-evolutionist views anywhere near something that uses the word science. I can't stand intellectual dishonesty. It doesn't take much in the way of practical science experiments to demonstrate evolution. It also doesn't take much of a brain to see the trend backwards and put 2 and 2 together. This Mims guy is apparently only a highly developed ape.

          • Obviously you would fit well at scientific american. Categorizing someone with silly views as "a highly developed ape" is pretty pathetic. Oh, and there is a difference between intellectual dishonesty, and the sort of world view that lends itself to anti-evolution views. I have never seen any reason to consider Mims to be intellectually dishonest. He just has a blind spot.

            I would argue that if there is no place for folks whose views on a scientific area are shaped by religion, then there is no place for folks whose views are shaped by politics. And yet scientists frequently make political statements that are just as silly. And Scientific American is among the worst in that regard.

            • My highly developed ape remark was meant to echo creationists' view of what evolution implies about people. To someone at Mims' level, a blind spot of that nature is intentional, hence intellectual dishonesty.

              ...then there is no place for folks whose views are shaped by politics.

              Agreed. pure science isn't a stone for grinding your axes. Your inference is flawed, however. Scientists can make silly political statements. Their view of the facts can lead them to overly optimistic policy wants. Politicians should not bring their views into science. Your political leanings can't change objective, scientifically proven facts.

              • Your political leanings can't change objective, scientifically proven facts.


                Exactly. Only further scientific research can do that. ;-)

              • >i>My highly developed ape remark was meant to echo creationists' view of what evolution implies about people.
                Very funny NOT!

                To someone at Mims' level, a blind spot of that nature is intentional, hence intellectual dishonesty.

                As far as I can tell, Mims firmly believes in creation. This does not strike me as dishonesty, which by its very definition means doing or saying something that you do NOT believe in.

    • They've veered from true science and now feel the need 'preach' environment, evolution, abortion, etc.

      I suppose you'd prefer them to state the "facts" of creation "science" instead.

  • Not only is it FREE, but it also prolongs the useful life of your CPU, unlike other OS's that require a system upgrade as well.
    • Re:New Linux Add (Score:2, Insightful)

      by jez9999 (618189)
      Actually, damn good point. The Wintel strategy of requiring an 'upgrade cycle' (new hardware) every few years instead of coding more efficiently probably doesn't do the environment any good, besides the consumers.
  • getting better! (Score:5, Informative)

    by lopati (74873) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:11AM (#4616122) Homepage
    at least from the intel press release [intel.com] :D

    The new manufacturing technology enabled by the 300-mm technology also provides significant benefits from an environmental perspective. The chips manufactured in Fab11X will require less water and generate fewer emissions per chip than other fabs. Water and chemical use will be more efficient. When compared to a 200-mm facility Fab 11X will produce 48 percent less volatile organic compound emissions, use 42 percent less ultra pure water and will use approximately 40 percent less energy.
  • by Deton8 (522248) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:13AM (#4616133)
    One thing I've often wondered is whether a typical solar cell produces more energy in its lifetime than it takes to manufacture it?
  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:17AM (#4616152) Homepage

    Don't worry, our grandkids can clean it up. Luckily, they'll have plenty of oil wealth to help them do it.

    No, wait...

    </sarcasm> aside, this just goes to show that capitalism means cutting off your nose to pay for your facelift.

    Oh, sorry, my <sarcasm> must have been nested, along with a <mixed metaphore>. But really, why is this a suprise to anyone? Our entire economy is based on the premise that the lowest bidder is always the best one. Without artificial (read: gubmint) controls (which we're not going to get under undisputed reign of George II), using the cheapest process without regard for the consequences is inevitable. It's actually the fiduciary duty of the execs in these industries to do this! If they were to switch to using a cleaner (but more expensive) process, they'd be sacked at best, and quite probably sued by their shareholders.

    • by Gruneun (261463) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:54AM (#4616441)
      Our entire economy is based on the premise that the lowest bidder is always the best one.

      That explains why everyone here drives a Yugo, eats Big Top-brand cereal, and writes their posts from an eMachine.
      • Not to speak for the parent to which you replied, but...

        Sure, that's a good point - people do consider a little more than money when making decisions. Quality of product is definitely a concern (if you can afford it).

        Yet, the question then is, do people still consider everything they could? Have we perhaps learned, at some time in the 20th century, that there might be some costs we tend to overlook, that we weren't even aware of before?

        But of course, it may be too costly to worry about hidden costs...
      • Sure, because Yugo's were the lowest bidders in the mid sized executive auto class, Big Top the lowest bidders in the "tastes like Kellogs cereal" class, and eMachines the lower bidders in the "computer that plays Quake 3 at 30fps" class.

        Sorry, clearly I needed to spell out that "lowest bidder" means "lowest bidder actually tendering the desired goods". If you want to class eMachines and P4's in the same category, we'd currently all be trying to play Doom 3 on pockets calculators. Or slide rules, for that matter.

        I do take your point though, especially in the 2nd case. Let's make an exception for those people who keep advertising weasels in a job.

        • Sorry, clearly I needed to spell out that "lowest bidder" means "lowest bidder actually tendering the desired goods". If you want to class eMachines and P4's in the same category, we'd currently all be trying to play Doom 3 on pockets calculators.

          My point is that each person defines what "lowest bidder actually tendering the desired goods" and, therefore, it's relative. Some people will buy an eMachine because they need to send email. For those people, an eMachine is perfectly adequate. For most of us, an eMachine isn't adequate.

          By the same token, some of us are more concerned about the environment or other variables, than the rest of us. For example, I refuse to buy anything from Sprint, ever. Besides being extremely annoying, every commercial with the guy in the trenchcoat implies that anyone without a Sprint PCS phone is an ignorant buffoon. It's important to me that a company that wants my money not imply I'm an idiot.

          Because of the article, the manufacturing costs associated with making a processor are now known to me. Like most people, I've evaluated those costs versus my need/want for a faster processor. I decided it's worth it. Frankly, until I find out that for every P4 processor, Intel clubs a baby seal, I probably won't give a damn. That's not a defect in the principles of capitalism, it's a reflection of human principles.
    • Without artificial ... controls .. using the cheapest process without regard for the consequences is inevitable. It's actually the fiduciary duty of the execs in these industries to do this! If they were to switch to using a cleaner (but more expensive) process, they'd be sacked at best, and quite probably sued by their shareholders.

      You got that totally ass-backwards:

      An industrial process which consumes fewer resources is cleaner because it consumes fewer resources. An industrial process which consumes fewer resources is less expensive because it consumes fewer resources.

      More efficient methods of production are more profitable because they consume fewer resources to produce the same amount. So long as resources cost money, there will be financial insentive to conserve resources. (One corallary is that government giveaways promote wasefulness.)

      If I adopt a new manufacturing process which yields two widgets from every one pound of raw widgiteum, whereas previoulsy I only produced one widget for each pound of widgiteam, then I lower my costs of producing a widget. The cost which I charge for widgets is unaffected. Therefore, my profit, the difference between what I spend in producing a widget and what I earn from its sale, increases if I conserve resources.

      This can apply to public goods such as the air and the oceans just as it can to exchangable goods such as steel and oil. For example, with air, all that is neccessary is to charge air polluters in proportion to how much pollution they release into the air. Doing that provides financial insentive to pollute less, in the same way that the cost of a good provides financial insentive to consume less of it. The profit motive can work to lower pollution. If it costs money to pollute, then the profifit motive works for the environment, not against it. For those who understand such terms, all that is necessary is that the government internalize exterternalities.

      (which we're not going to get under undisputed reign of George II)

      If you look at who lines up on the side of tradable pollution credits, a way of charging polluters according two how much they pollute, it is conservatives. If you look at who is against that, it is liberals.

  • 1.6kg fossil fuel (Score:3, Insightful)

    by jolshefsky (560014) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:24AM (#4616185) Homepage
    It's interesting that it takes just about the same 1.6kg of fossil fuel to drive 10 miles to a store and back to buy that chip. Curious.
  • by panurge (573432) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:31AM (#4616260)
    Every time I send a 5Mb file by internet, that is packaging and carriage that has been avoided.

    Every time I use conferencing over the internet, I am saving (typically) about 30lb of Diesel (and it would have been nearer 45lb of gas in my last car)

    I'm not arguing that we should ignore the environmental costs of technology - places like the former Communist block and Texas are unpleasantly polluted as a result of doing just that - but that we should look closely at the costs and benefits. Given the potential of global warming and the eventual runout of oil, the more we use silicon to reduce the number of boring journeys we have to do, whether by mobile phone, networked computer, or whatever, the better it is going to be for us.

    And for those who don't already know - substances like sulfuric acid and HF are widely used in the petrochemical industry. And what happens to all the sulfur they have to remove to get low-sulfur fuel? It surely doesn't get fired into space by a rail gun.

  • by cowbutt (21077) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @09:37AM (#4616320) Journal
    ...is the net conservation of resources and energy by the use of semiconductors. For example, if by having a PC and internet connection at home, it becomes possible to work from home, I wouldn't be surprised if the breakeven point between that and driving to work was reached very quickly.

    • For example, if by having a PC and internet connection at home, it becomes possible to work from home, I wouldn't be surprised if the breakeven point between that and driving to work was reached very quickly.

      So the 0.2% of people that this applies to makes it the general rule?
      • Well, you have to consider that it extends far beyond telecommuting. Think of all the CAD/CAM systems for example that save companies from having to construct hundreds, if not thousands, of prototypes of a product or product assembly process. Think of all the efficiencies gained on those lines by the fact that the computer can (properly programmed of course) think far enough ahead to reduce or eliminate waste. I would guess that those impacts are very big. What we lack here is a cost benefit analysis of the computer technology that we have. No one really knows the real net impact/savings that the technology has made/enabled.

        Of course, one could argue that all the above is for naught anyway and does nothing more than feed our materialistic urges, but that's a whole nuther can of worms.
  • taxes? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by fluor2 (242824) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:00AM (#4616480)
    here in norway we allready have enviroment-taxes on things like tv's and pc's.

    i only wonder if the taxes actually will help lower the pollution to the environment.
    • i only wonder if the taxes actually will help lower the pollution to the environment.

      No. It ends up in the government's general spending pot. It's just another meaningless tax which is not being used what's it supposed to be used for.
      • Your answer is incomplete. If the tax is enough to represent the societal cost of the pollution, then the increase in net selling price will give buyers the incentive to change their buying habits to optimize the tradeoff between societal costs and their personal benefit.

        Prices drive behavior. They serve as the mechanism for resource usage (of all kinds) to be regulated. E.g. using scarce precious metals vs. less scarce minerals. The problem with pollution is that it causes a decrease in people's well-being without an accompanying payment.

        In principle, you could bid with me for the privilege of making my air dirtier in exchange for money. If I decided I wanted pristine air, the bid would have to be high, and there would be few polluters who could afford to pollute. As long as I voluntarily accepted the bid, and were fully informed as to the effects of the pollution, I would have no reason to complain. I gave up my clean air for good money. Perhaps even enough to buy an air filter that would remove the pollution with some left over.

        The problem is that we don't have the power to control the air we breathe, except through governmental regulation. Therefore, one alternative is to tax activities that cause pollution. The government collects the money, instead of the individuals, but in principle, it has a similar effect on polluters. Presumably, it would be even more effective if a market existed to determine the price of pollution, with producers having to bid for the right to pollute, instead of having a fixed, somewhat arbitrary tax rate. (Good luck trying to explain this to an Earth-firster.)
  • With enviroment it's always easy to look at the expenses but what about the benefits of microprocessors on the enviroment?

    Think of waste-plants being monitored by computers so the waste is constantly being processed ideally.

    But it's an interesting set of numbers, though.
    • by panurge (573432) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @11:36AM (#4617240)
      Yes, this is a valid point. In my time I have built a number of systems for environmental monitoring and waste control, and the cost/benefit can be enormous (savings of tonnes of chemicals every year using a small box with little more than a PIC processor and a few analog devices.)

      Someone said elsewhere I was missing the point, and that silicon manufacturing processes need to improve. OF COURSE. But what drives the improvement is that it is invariably CHEAPER in the end to make things using best environmental practice, unless the State gives the manufacturer a dispensation from paying the costs of the environmental damage - a statist subsidy. And it is usually cheaper anyway because of the savings on materials and consumables. As an example, one project I looked at (to prevent the discharge of cesium by monitoring the composition of a bath and reprocessing it) had a payback of about a week based on the cesium savings alone: the management simply didn't know what was going on in their own plant and had accepted the costs blindly. In another project, a closed loop treatment plant turned out to be cheaper than open-loop because the cost of the electronics was more than offset by the smaller outlet holding tank that was required. I could go on and on...but then, I got into the computing business because you can, actually, do much more interesting things with silicon than make Word or Quake run faster.

  • Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by autopr0n (534291) on Thursday November 07, 2002 @10:39AM (#4616771) Homepage Journal
    If you read the NYT article it makes it sound more like those Africans would be sitting around starving or something if it wasn't for the coltan mining jobs. I mean god forbid someone should do manual labor in the outdoors... it's just horrid!

    I'm not saying that people should be digging in animal preserves, but that is 'illegal' over there.

    If you read the article, the author seems to think that self-righteous bans on material from certain countries, as well as the tech slump are causing more harm to people then the mining system.
  • here [wired.com]
    actualy tells you about ways to use clean technology in chip business
  • ...that millions of people will upgrade from a PC using a 1GHz processor to a PC using a 2.5GHz processor even though they cannot tell the difference in performance at all. And in the process they put an old PC in a landfill and end up with one that uses more power than the last one.

    I'm getting really, really, really tired of the extreme minority of PC users, such as people who annually put down $400 for a new video card, driving the entire PC upgrade cycle.
  • And after you throw out your used mobo/computer/monitors, where do they end up? Most of it gets shipped to developing nations especially closest to the booming tech countries - southeast asia. There are entire villages in southern China and Thailand where poor families and their children spend 12 hour days meltiing down chips and boards for gold as well as raw materials to be recycled. The problem is, there is about as much gold in pcb etchings and chips as there is mercury, lead, and cadmium, not to mention melting plastic over an oven is not a very good idea.

    This finding was published in Harper's Magazine a few months ago.
  • I love it when people throw around words like "Chemicals" when they really mean "TOXIC chemicals".
    Such as - "That hot dog you are eating has lots of chemicals in it! You shouldn't eat it!"

    At which point, I slap the hippy herbivore and say "There's even more chemicals in your bean curds, you idiot. Chemicals like 'hydrocarbons', 'hydrogen di-oxide' etc. etc.....Did you know that Hydrogen Di-Oxide is a mild acid, typically in nature is a breeding ground for bacteria and infectious diseases? It's addictive! Once you take it once, you have to take it for the rest of your life...or the withdrawls will kill you!"

    Specifically WHAT evil chemicals do they use in making microchips? How much as compared to making...the jars they sell babyfood in? What exactly is the environmental impact of these evil chemicals?

    Until those questions are answered, this article is just running around screaming that the sky is falling....

    BAh!
    • Still too much pressure in my spleen - gotta vent it on this....

      IANAME (I Am Not A Microchip Engineer) but I would assume the "chemicals" they use in processing silicone would be something acidic (rinse away everything but the silicone) and then water to rinse away the acid. Those can all be neutralized easily.
      Then there would be the pollutants in the silicone, but typically that shouldn't be anything REALLY bad in large ammounts. Then there's the germanium, gallium et al. that they dope the semiconductor with - but the idea is to keep those inside the chip. Then there's the lead solder.

      If you want to bust some ass on heavy metals, how about we go after battery makers - you know - those HUGE batteries they want to put in gas/electric hybrid cars... How much "chemicals" do they produce as waste to make one of THOSE?

      That should just about do it...

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