Building a semiconductor factory requires enormous quantities of land and energy, then some of the most precise machinery on Earth to operate. The complexity of chip fabs, as they are called, is one reason why the US Congress last year committed more than $50 billion to boost U.S. chip production in a bid to make the country more technologically independent.
But as the U.S. seeks to boot up more fabs, it also needs to source more of a less obvious resource: water. Take Intel's ambitious plan to build a $20 billion mega-site outside Columbus, Ohio. The area already has three water plants that together provide 145 million gallons of drinking water each day, but officials are planning to spend heavily on a fourth to, at least in part, accommodate Intel.
Water might not sound like a conventional ingredient of electronics manufacturing, but it plays an essential role in cleaning the sheets, or wafers, of silicon that are sliced and processed into computer chips. A single fab might use millions of gallons in a single day, according to the Georgetown Center for Security and Emerging Technology (CSET)—about the same amount of water as a small city in a year.
Chip companies hoping to take advantage of the CHIPS and Science Act, last year's federal spending package aiming to boost US chip manufacturing, are now constructing new water processing facilities alongside their fabs. And cities trying to attract new factories funded by the legislation are studying the potential impact on their water supplies. In some places it may be necessary to secure the water supply; in others, new infrastructure must be installed to recycle water used by fabs.
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