From the Director, Aaron Zude (January 2009)

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EHS Advantage Newsletter

From The Director

January 2009

In the October issue of the EHS Advantage newsletter, I outlined the top 7 EHS issues that I thought the SEMI EHS Division should be addressing. These included “Growth of the Photovoltaic (PV) Manufacturing Industry and Related EHS Risks”. More specifically, I wrote: “As the PV manufacturing industry expands, and novel processes and manufacturing techniques and equipment are brought on line, there is a logarithmic expansion of associated EHS issues. From silane safety - to equipment design, installation and commissioning - to abatement and control of emissions, many EHS issues that were previously resolved by the semiconductor industry are resurfacing at PV manufacturers.”

What is now clear is that the world is taking notice of the environmental and safety consequences of poor PV EHS management. As a PV manufacturer or supply chain provider, your EHS performance and intentions towards future sustainable business practices are being scrutinized and communicated to the world.

Here are three examples:

    1. On January 14, 2009, the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition published a White Paper titled: “Toward a Just and Sustainable Solar Energy Industry.” In it, they state:

    “Solar energy is an essential part of the global move toward clean, renewable energy, and it is critical that the growing solar PV industry is itself truly safe and sustainable. Little attention is currently being paid to the potential risks and consequences of scaling up solar PV cell production. The solar PV industry must address these issues immediately, or risk repeating the mistakes made by the microelectronics industry. The electronics industry’s lack of environmental planning and oversight resulted in widespread toxic chemical pollution that caused death and injury to workers and people living in nearby communities. The high-tech industry’s legacy now includes the growing global tide of toxic electronic waste, or e-waste.

    2. On November 17, 2008 an article was published in Yale Environment 360 (a publication of the Yale University School of Forestry & Environmental Studies) responding to recent studies that nitrogen trifluoride (NF3) is now present in the atmosphere at four times the expected level and rapidly rising. This article states that:

    “When industry began using NF3 in high-tech manufacturing, it was hailed as a way to fight global warming. But new research shows that this gas has 17,000 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide and is rapidly increasing in the atmosphere - and that's turning an environmental success story into a public relations disaster. Hypothetical question: You're heartsick about global warming, so you've just paid $25,000 to put a solar system on the roof of your home. How do you respond to news that it was manufactured with a chemical that is 17,000 times stronger than carbon dioxide as a cause of global warming? It may sound like somebody's idea of a bad joke. But last month, a study from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography reported that nitrogen trifluoride (NF3), with a global warming potential of 17,000, is now present in the atmosphere at four times the expected level and rapidly rising. Use of NF3 is currently booming, for products from computer chips and flats-screen LCDs to thin-film solar photovoltaics, an economical and increasingly popular solar power format.”

    3. On March 9, 2008 the Washington Post newspaper published an article describing the dumping of silicon tetrachloride by a polysilicon manufacturer onto the ground near a village in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River. The article states that:

    “Because of the environmental hazard, polysilicon companies in the developed world recycle the compound, putting it back into the production process. But the high investment costs and time, not to mention the enormous energy consumption required for heating the substance to more than 1800 degrees Fahrenheit for the recycling, have discouraged many factories in China from doing the same. Like Luoyang Zhonggui, other solar plants in China have not installed technology to prevent pollutants from getting into the environment or have not brought those systems fully online, industry sources say.”

Because of the tremendous growth experienced by the PV industry over the past five years, enormous pressures have been placed 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 production processes.

One of the challenges to ensuring that effective hazard controls are in place at PV manufacturing facilities, wherever they may be located, is to develop an effective means for sharing EHS knowledge on an industry-wide scale.

Consider this: in the mid-1980s, residents in California’s Silicon Valley brought a civil suit against five leading semiconductor companies for massively polluting the groundwater. It was a public relations disaster. Yet twenty years later, these same semiconductor firms are winning environmental awards and are widely touted for their responsible EHS practices.

The difference between the two eras is evident in the current level of collaboration within the high tech industry to share EHS best practices and reach world-class levels of EHS performance. Today, the semiconductor industry is not only recognized worldwide as a “good citizen,” it is an industry that has radically lowered costs on regulatory compliance, energy usage, fossil fuel emissions, and workplace safety through effective collaboration. To be a safe, efficient, and environmentally responsible industry, the PV supply chain needs an equal if not more effective collaboration mechanisms to address sustainable development opportunities on a global basis.

To help initiate this collaborative dialog, the SEMI EHS Division has launched a new website for sharing resources and exchanging information about PV EHS (see companion article in the newsletter). This website provides a place where PV EHS related presentations and documents can be uploaded and shared, where forums can be created to discuss specific topics, and where announcements on news and events can be posted. Participation is free; all you have to do is register.

The new PV EHS Group is open to anyone interested in furthering EHS within the PV industry through open dialog, discussion and sharing of resources. To join, please visit Choose the “Groups” tab near the top of the page, locate and select the “PV EHS” Group, and then click on “Request to Join”. I look forward to working with you.