PV Industry Struggles With Environmental, Health and Safety Challenges

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PV Industry Struggles With Environmental, Health and Safety Challenges

PV industry representatives from throughout Asia met at PV Power Taiwan on September 10, 2008 to discuss the growing challenges in Environmental, Health and Safety (EHS). Organized by the SEMI EHS Division, the half-day EHS workshop addressed a number of topics, including environmental protection; worker safety & health; process tool installation; process tool maintenance; specialty gas and chemical delivery systems; building engineering; facilities; risk management; and insurance.

The PV industry has experienced tremendous growth over the past five years, creating enormous pressures on EHS needs and practices in the industry. Operating in dozens of countries, hundreds of new production facilities have recently come on line and thousands of new workers are interfacing with complex and potentially dangerous systems. Unlike semiconductor fabs, many PV facilities are not fully staffed by experienced EHS professionals and do not have rigorous plant safety procedures.

Underscoring the risks involved, Kelvin Huang from Air Products San Fu presented an overview of proper silane safety procedures and practices. Silane, or Silicon Tetrahydridride, is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable materials used in chip and cell production, despite 40 years of use and research. In the semiconductor industry, silane has reportedly been involved in eleven fatalities in 20 years, more than all other materials combined. Through videos, illustration and reference materials, Mr. Huang demonstrated the proper use and handling of silane, as well as described the status of its classification as a toxic substance in many countries.

Dr. Mike Czerniak from Edwards gave an overview of gas abatement systems and procedures in his presentation entitled, “Emissions Abatement Safety and Environmental Controls” or as one observer called it, “dilution is not the solution.” Dr. Czerniak described how different types of abatement technologies are available and why there is not one single solution to meet all needs. In silane management, abatement systems will need advanced maintenance procedures to protect pipe work, and in powder management, a typical CVD tool can generate tens of tons of silica per year. Many gases used in PV have extremely high Global Warming Potential (GWP), sometimes thousands of times more than C02. Many abatement systems themselves create by-products, but good abatement strategies exist for nearly all types of PV cell production technologies.

Chris Illerhaus from CI Industrial Safety presentation entitled, “PV Tool and Facility Safety Considerations” presented a number of case histories and examples of serious EHS incidents from the semiconductor industry, all of which can be repeated in the high-growth PV industry. Most of the incidents discussed involved a complex sequence of events that are difficult to foresee and hard for current safety standards and guidelines— such as SEMI S2, S14, NFPA318, and FM7-7— to completely address. Illerhaus’ recommendation is to conduct a Hazard and Operational Study to thoroughly understand the sources of EHS risk and the opportunities for risk reduction.

Other presentations in the day included one by Aaron Zude, Sr. Director of SEMI EHS Division, on “Tool Installation and Start-up Safety Procedures and Checklists,” and Vinnie DeGiorgio from FM Global on the “Application of FM Global Property Loss Prevention Standards.”

In PV, the high growth and relative youth of the industry indicate the critical need for experienced EHS professionals and proven EHS procedures to be an essential part of every company’s business strategy. Many of these people, processes, guidelines and standards will come from the semiconductor industry, with some unique to specific PV technologies. Many of these technologies are just emerging— and some new technologies such as III-V materials and DSSC are not anticipated until 2010. In light of these challenges, it is imperative that every production operation have a rigorous EHS strategy and thorough commitment to EHS Best Practices.

Presentation materials from the workshop are available here.

For more information on EHS, please visit www.semi.org/ehs. For more information on PV, please visit www.pvgroup.org.